I am still fuming about last night’s debate. I am angry with President Obama for his poor defense of a worthy record in difficult times. I am angry with moderator Jim Lehrer, whose failures to preside over the proceedings resembled those of a hapless replacement referee.
Most of all, I am angry with Mitt Romney, who repeatedly presented false or misleading claims about taxes, health policy, and other matters. He’s gained a tactical boost in the past two days by rhetorically pivoting to the center. Just today he walked back his 47 percent remark. That’s the right and obvious play. It’s also way out of keeping with what Romney’s been doing and saying all year, and what his political base will demand if he were to win election.
Before and during the Republican primaries, Romney embraced yet another round of supply-side tax cuts which independent experts find would mainly benefit the wealthy while either exploding the deficit or raising middle-class taxes. He favored repeal of health reform, which would prevent about 30 million people from obtaining health insurance coverage. He embraced deep cuts in the domestic discretionary component of the federal government. He embraced the conversion of Medicare from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution program that would quite intentionally shift costs and risks onto seniors. In the primaries, Romney ran to the right of Rick Perry to embraced deeply intolerant policies on immigration.Â (Remember all that self-deportation stuff?)Â Romney took similar emphatic stands on reproductive rights, gays in the military, and more. He appointed Paul Ryan as his running mate, too.
The Romney campaign has followed a deliberate strategy of provided very little detail regarding the most politically sensitive fiscal policies.Â How will we constrain Medicare cost growth? The magic of competition will obviate the need for any actual tradeoffs. Is there any evidence that will work? Donâ€™t need any. The power of competition is self-evident. How will your tax plan work? Weâ€™ll lower the rates and broaden the base without specifying which deductions and exemptions will be ruled out. When will you provide the details? Weâ€™ll decide that after the election. How would poor, elderly, and disabled Americans deal with $810 billion in Medicaid cut over the next decade? Donâ€™t worry; the states will figure that out.Â But your partyâ€™s 2012 campaign platform is stridently conservative on every issue from tax policy to immigration to gays in the military to abortion, Thatâ€™s just the platform. Pay no attention.
When details are provided, theyÂ never quite seem to hang together. In any event, the details readily shift with political expediency. Here, for example, is the New York Times today on Romneyâ€™s health plan:
Mr. Obama said that if Mr. Romney repeals his health care law, insurers would no longer be required to provide coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems. Mr. Romney countered that â€œpre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.â€
Mr. Romney made a similar claim in an appearance last month on NBCâ€™s â€œMeet the Press.â€ At the time, he said, â€œIâ€™m not getting rid of all of health care reform. Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that Iâ€™m going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.â€
But Mr. Romneyâ€™s aides later clarified that he would only explicitly guarantee insurance for people with pre-existing conditions if they have maintained coverage with no significant lapses. That could exclude millions of Americans with conditions like cancer, heart disease and asthma.[italics added]
This is no small issue. Tens of millions of Americans have lapses in their health coverage. Four million are uninsured and have already been diagnosed with serious medical difficulties such as cancer, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. The Romney campaign is silent on how these Americans would be covered, what kind of financial and regulatory help they would receive, and other essential details. The Romney campaignâ€™s â€œrepeal and replaceâ€ and Medicare policy documents are basically the length of this blog post.
The Tax Policy Center, one of the nationâ€™s most respected organizations in its field, performed an extensive analysis which identified serious difficulties with Romneyâ€™s tax plan. As Thinkprogress documents, Romney blithely dismissed TPCâ€™s work during the debate:
â€œI will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families. Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say itâ€™s completely wrong.â€ The studies Romney cites actually further prove that Romney would, in fact, have to raise taxes on the middle class if he were to keep his promise not to lose revenue with his tax rate reduction.
Romney surprise debate lurched to the rhetorical center last night was cynical and phony. His tax proposals are what the Tax Policy Center said they are. Reducing capital gains, upper-bracket income and corporate tax breaks would indeed blow a hole in the deficit while providing unnecessary breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Romneyâ€™s proposal to cut Medicaid by $810 billion speaks for itself. So does his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
More to the point, the last-minute cosmetic shifts in Romneyâ€™s rhetoric are mostly irrelevant. To elect him is to empower conservative congressional Republicans to fill in the fine print of his tax, spending, and health proposals. These are the House Republicans who passed a fiscal year 2013 budget that would sharply curb Medicare and Medicaid, that would also repeal health reform and cut the discretionary component of the federal budget.
The United States has an increasingly parliamentary political system. This election is not about Obama and Romney as individuals. At least itâ€™s not only about them. In domestic policy, anyway, itâ€™s mainly a choice between two broad coalitions.
One coalition seeks to enact social insurance so that we can protectÂ one other against lifeâ€™s crushing risks. That was the basic message of the Democratic convention in Charlotte. The other coalition profoundly distrusts social insurance â€œentitlements,â€ particularly those which tend to channel resources down the income scale.
One coalition embraces (imperfectly) a vision of social inclusion regarding women, race/ethnic and sexual minorities. The other profoundly distrusts the multi-race/ethnic, culturally diverse trajectory of American life.
One coalition embraces (imperfectly) policies to curb inequality and to tackle tasks such as environmental protection that would otherwise be left undone by a minimally-regulated economy. The other coalition profoundly resists such economic policies and often regardsÂ concerns about rising inequality asÂ simple hatred of economic success.
Republicans have spent the past four years making their position clear on each of the above matters. President Obama is much closer to the political center than his Republican opponents are. Yet he certainly presents a liberal vision.
Which governing vision do you prefer? Thatâ€™s the choice. No Etch-a-Sketch can conceal that.