The Clear Alternatives in the Presidential Debate

by Bruce Thornton

FrontPage Magazine

Forget all the pre-debate handicapping and advice about what Mitt Romney needed to do or what Barack Obama had to avoid. Last night’s debate clarified the stark choice facing American voters on November 6. On the one hand, we heard a candidate who endorses limited government, individual rights and freedom, free market economic policies, and personal self-reliance and autonomy that the Constitution was created to protect. On the other hand, we heard a candidate who endorses big government, group rights, redistributionist economic policies, and the progressive ideal that limits freedom and empowers elites to run people’s lives. In this first debate, Romney and the Constitution clearly won, as the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth emanating from the mainstream media prove.

First, many Americans were seeing the real Romney for the first time. Contrary to the fat-cat caricature the Obama campaign and its media enablers have been peddling for months, Romney was warm and jocular, and sensitive to the plight of real people who have suffered under Obama’s policies. He easily had the best laugh lines: “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.” When Obama lied about lowering taxes for the rich, Romney answered, “I have five boys, and I’m used to people saying things over and over, thinking if they repeat it enough it will be true.” He slyly reminded everybody of Joe Biden’s gaffe that the “middle class has been buried the last four years” when he said, “Middle income Americans have been buried.” Romney responded to Obama’s complaint about $3 billion tax breaks for oil companies by contrasting it to the $90 billion for green energy, landing another punch with, “You don’t pick winners and losers, you just pick the losers.” When Romney was asked about spending cuts, he said he’d eliminate programs that are not “important enough to borrow money from China” to pay for them, like PBS, with an apology to moderator Jim Lehrer. And his early jab, “trickle-down government,” should enter the political lexicon.

Second, Romney was obviously much more confident, prepared, and knowledgeable than Obama. He had a greater command of the facts, and often turned them against Obama’s claims. When Obama crowed about the federal government’s support for job training, Romney snapped back that it was spread over 47 training programs and 8 agencies. Obama’s accusation that Romney would cut funding for teachers was met with a devastating riposte: that $90 billion that went for “clean energy,” much of it, Romney reminded us, going to Obama’s supporters and friends, could have paid for 2 million more teachers. Romney’s reminder that 4 million seniors would lose their Advantage Medicare supplemental insurance demolished the President’s spin that his $716 billion in Medicare cuts was achieved by reducing “overpayments” to providers. Obama’s call for raising taxes on the “rich” was met with Romney’s reminder that Obama himself said you don’t raise taxes in a slow economy — and the economy is growing more slowly now than it was when Obama said it back in 2010. As for Obama, he just repeated campaign slogans that a few minutes of scrutiny could explode, like touting “investing” in more people going to college at a time when millions of college students can’t find work, or repeating the Tax Policy Center claim that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class, an analysis the TPC no longer stands behind, or taking credit for increased oil and natural gas production, when that in fact occurred in spite of, not because of his policies, as Romney pointed out when he reminded us that permits for oil development on federal lands have been reduced by half under Obama.

Third, the demeanor of the two men was starkly different. Obama looked sour most of the time, scowling and smirking, and refusing to look at Romney when he spoke, and often looking down when Romney was talking, like a child who is being chastised. Romney was confident, eager, obviously charged up by the debate. Obama looked like he was in the dentist’s chair. The split-screen shots were particularly devastating, Obama looking old and tired, Romney actually looking much younger and more vigorous. Obama simply couldn’t handle his first formidable adversary, which should have been obvious from the start of his political career. His whole life he’s just had to show up and take a bow. The mainstream media, which have been his shills for four years, have worsened this arrogance. Obama is like a football team that is unbeaten during the exhibition season, but having grown flabby and complacent, is wiped out when the regular season starts. That’s why, as Charles Krauthammer said, Romney won by two touchdowns. Obama’s sorry performance should explode the media’s fairytale about Obama’s oratorical skills, intelligence, and likability, none of which was evident during the debate.

Finally, the difference between the political philosophies of the two candidates was made crystal clear in the question regarding the role of government. Romney asserted a limited role for the federal government, which exists to protect the inalienable rights with which we have been endowed by our creator, and which are codified in the Constitution. But power resides with the people that government is supposed to serve, and whose freedom to pursue happiness the government is supposed to protect. Obama believes, as Romney said, “government can do a better job than people pursuing their dreams.” Technocratic elites and bureaucracies should have the power to “solve problems” and achieve dubious “social welfare” goals such as income redistribution or egalitarianism. This is the progressive ideology, which is very different from the ideals that created our government.

Romney won this debate not because of optics, or even a greater command of the facts. He won because he has the better argument: free individuals and their work, initiative, and creativity are better than government at managing their lives, pursuing their happiness, and creating prosperity.

©2012 Bruce S. Thornton

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