Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Civility Watchdog: October 16th Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in Hempstead, NY

Following are excerpts from the presidential debate [NYTimes Transcript, Fox News Transcript, CNN Transcript, RCP Video] between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) in Hempstead, NY on October 16, 2012, hosted and moderated by Candy Crowley of CNN:
JEREMY EPSTEIN: Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. Can -- what can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?

ROMNEY: I know what it takes to create good jobs again. I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve. And kids across this country are going to recognize we’re bringing back an economy. It’s not going to be like the last four years. The middle class has been crushed over the last four years, and jobs have been too scarce. I know what it takes to bring them back, and I’m going to do that and make sure when you graduate … I’m going to make sure you get a job.
Comment: Romney didn't answer the question. Romney spoke about things he would do to help future college students graduate with less debt, but he didn't give any real detail to what he would do to ensure that Epstein would be able to support himself when he graduated.

OBAMA: I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again. You know, when Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, we’re going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry, and it’s come surging back.
Comment: This is a distortion. Romney never said he wanted Detroit to go bankrupt. He said he didn't think GM and Chrysler should get bailouts. GM and Chrysler are not the totality of the US auto industry -- referred to as "Detroit" by Obama -- there is Ford along with foreign manufacturers that have factories in the US and employ US auto workers (like Chrysler, which is now owned by Italy's Fiat). More, without bailouts, GM and Chrysler would not necessarily have gone out of business. Many companies go through the legal process of bankruptcy and continue to do business. Also, Obama is perhaps questioning the patriotism of people who opposed the auto bailouts by saying he "bet on American workers", as if refusing to bail out an American company means you don't support American workers or believe that they can succeed.

ROMNEY: And one thing that the -- the president said which I want to make sure that we understand -- he -- he said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt, and -- and that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and -- and -- and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And -- and I know he keeps saying, you wanted to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And -- and I think it’s important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommend and ultimately what happened.

OBAMA: Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open, and we would have lost a million jobs.And that -- don’t take my word for it; take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they’ll tell you his prescription wasn’t going to work.
Comment: Partly, what's going on here is an ambiguity in the meaning of "bankrupt". If "bankrupt" means the legal process of bankruptcy, then Romney supported GM and Chrysler going bankrupt, and so did Obama (because, in fact, GM and Chrysler went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations). On the other hand, if "bankrupt" means the companies going out of business, then that's not what Romney called for. He wanted them to go through the legal process of bankruptcy without government bailouts, which doesn't necessarily mean the companies would have gone out of business (as Romney mentioned: 7-Eleven, Macy’s and Continental Airlines). Obama's point is that he doesn't believe GM and Chrysler could have stayed in business after the legal process of bankruptcy without government aid. That's a complicated empirical matter about which people can disagree. But, even if GM and Chrysler had gone out of business, they're not the whole auto industry, which runs contrary to what Obama says when he states that Romney wanted to "let Detroit go bankrupt".

OBAMA: Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as governor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.
Comment: This is a caricature. In particular, it's the "silver bullet" caricature. Romney isn't proposing only one thing -- a "silver bullet" -- in order to fix the economy. He has a plan that involves tax reform, energy production, trade deals with foreign nations, etc. Obama may not think it's an effective plan -- that's something he needs to argue for -- but it's not acceptable for him to distort Romney as having only a one-dimensional plan.

OBAMA: That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle-class families. And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.
Comment: Obama is making the "failed policies" accusation against Romney. But he offers very little in the way of proof that Romney's policies are the policies "that got us" into the economic "mess" that we're in. He needs to provide detail to this argument, something more than just cum hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

PHILIP TRICOLLA: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

OBAMA: We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional sources of energy; we’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we’ve doubled clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels. … I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States. So that’s going to help Jeremy get a job, it’s also going to make sure that you’re not paying as much for gas.
Comment: Obama doesn't answer the question about whether Chu is wrong to say that it's not the job of the Energy Department to lower gas prices (assuming Chu did say this). More, while Obama says that his policies are lowering gas prices (which is another arguable empirical matter), he doesn't address whether it is the job of the Energy Department to do so.

OBAMA: Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, this plant kills, and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal. So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter.
Comment: What Romney has said isn't contradictory. As pointed out by PolitiFact, Romney was referring to one plant that had a history of problems. Romney wasn't saying all coal plants kill and that they should all be shut down. You can be an advocate for coal power while wanting some poorly run plants to be closed down, which is akin to what Obama himself calls for in the quote above. Similarly, you can be an advocate for car manufacturing while calling for some poorly operating cars to be discontinued through fuel efficiency standards, like the ones Obama has advocated. Obama is making a baseless accusation that Romney is flip-flopping. (PolitiFact ranks Obama's statement "True" despite the false implication that Romney was opposing all coal plants.)

ROMNEY: In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.
OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.
ROMNEY: So how much did you cut them by?
OBAMA: It’s not true.
ROMNEY: By how much did you cut them by, then?
OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil on --
ROMNEY: No, no, how much did you cut licenses and permits on federal land and federal waters?
Comment: Obama didn't answer the question. He went on to talk about what he had done with companies with unused leases on public lands, but he didn't address whether such permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters had been cut in half (as Romney claimed and queried).

OBAMA: He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was 1.80, 1.86 [dollars]. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse; because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney is now promoting. So it’s conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices, because with his policies we might be back in that same mess.
Comment: Again, Obama is making the "failed policies" accusation against Romney.

MARY POLLANO: Governor Romney, you have stated that if you’re elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue. Concerning the -- these various deductions -- the mortgage deduction, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also the … The education credits, which are important to me because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important for the middle class?

ROMNEY: I want to get some relief to middle-income families. That’s part -- that’s part one. Now, how about deductions? Because I’m going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I’m going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end, because I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they’re paying now. … Middle-income people are going to get a tax break. And so in terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that would be to say everybody gets -- I’ll pick a number -- $25,000 of deductions and credits. And you can decide which ones to use, your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit and so forth. You can use those as part of filling that bucket, if you will, of deductions. But your rate comes down, and the burden also comes down on you for one more reason.
Comment: This seems like an evasion. Romney doesn't say clearly what his position is on the various deductions mentioned by Pollano (for instance, which of them he wants to get rid of or would refuse to get rid of). Instead, he suggests that putting a cap on how much you can claim in deductions is "one way" of changing things. He doesn't clearly say that's what he would do as opposed to eliminating deductions.

OBAMA: Governor Romney has a different philosophy. He was on “60 Minutes” just two weeks ago, and he was asked, is it fair for somebody like you, making $20 million a year, to pay a lower tax rate than a nurse or a bus driver, somebody making $50,000 a year? And he said, yes, I think that’s fair. Not only that, he said, I think that’s what grows the economy.
Comment: The debate about who pays a lower tax rate than whom has been prone to apples-to-oranges comparisons, which is what is going on here. For instance, if you buy a sandwich, you pay a lower tax rate on it than I pay on my salary. That's because they're different taxes: sales tax for the sandwich, income tax for the salary. Something similar is going on here: the bus driver is paying income tax, someone making $20 million a year is paying taxes not on income but investments and capital gains. This need not undermine the broader debate about fairness -- maybe we should pay the same tax on apples as on oranges, so to speak -- but the discussion should be explicit about whether fairness demands that different taxes -- sales, income, property, capital gains, etc. -- should have different rates or all the same rates.

ROMNEY: I look at what’s happened in the last four years and say, this has been a disappointment. We can do better than this. We don’t have to settle for how many months, 43 months with unemployment above 8 percent, 23 million Americans struggling to find a good job right now. There are 3 1/2 million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office. We don’t have to live like this. We can get this economy going again.
Comment: Romney is essentially making the "failed policies" accusation against Obama.

ROMNEY: I want to help small businesses grow and thrive. I know how to make that happen. I spent my life in the private sector. I know why jobs come and why they go. And they’re going now because of the policies of this administration.
Comment: Romney is making an appeal to authority. Fine, he's worked in the private sector, but he still has to justify why his ideas on job creation are better. Experts still have to provide sound arguments for their positions, just like everyone else.

CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women.
ROMNEY: Thank you. And -- important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the -- the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.
Comment: Romney didn't answer this question so far as ensuring pay equity for women. He spoke about what he had done in the past to hire women, and what he would do to spur the economy to hire more workers in general, but did not address whether or what he would do to ensure that women and men are paid the same for equal work.

OBAMA: When he talks about getting tough on China, keep in mind that Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China and is currently investing in countries -- in -- in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks. That’s -- Governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China.

ROMNEY: Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in -- in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: You know, I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours, so it -- it doesn’t take as long.

ROMNEY: You also investments in Chinese companies.
OBAMA: Yeah.
ROMNEY: You also have investments outside the United States.
OBAMA: Yeah.
ROMNEY: You also have investments through a Caymans trust, all right?
OBAMA: All right.

OBAMA: Now Governor Romney talked about China. As I already indicated, in the private sector, Governor Romney’s company invested in what were called pioneers of outsourcing. That’s not my phrase; that’s what reporters called it.
Comment: Obama's argument -- that Romney as president will outsource jobs just like he did when he worked in investment -- is not valid reasoning. It would be akin to arguing that, because Obama organized protests as a community organizer, therefore that's what he'll do as president. Obviously, that didn't happen. When people switch jobs, they frequently behave differently. Also, Obama also avoids Romney's question about the contents of his pension. Finally, Romney risks engaging in ad hominem reasoning (of the "you too" variety) by pointing out that Obama is doing the same as Romney is doing (i.e., investing in Chinese companies). He can't simply argue that what he's doing is OK because other people are doing it (even if the other people doing it are the same ones who are criticizing what he's doing). He has to make the case that what he's doing is OK regardless of whether his critics are also doing it.

OBAMA: So there are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they’re not on economic policy. In some ways, he’s gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy, and I think that’s a mistake. That’s not how we’re going to move our economy forward.
Comment: Obama is indulging in "extremism" rhetoric. Why not just say Romney is wrong and then explain why?

OBAMA: We saved an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse.
Comment: As discussed earlier, this is an exaggeration at best. GM and Chrysler may have been on the brink of going out of business (which is an empirical question that's arguable), but they are not the whole of the US auto industry. It's far from clear that the US would have no auto industry if GM and Chrysler had gone out of business.

OBAMA: So the point is, the commitments I’ve made, I’ve kept. And those that I haven’t been able to keep, it’s not for lack of trying, and we’re going to get it done in a second term.
Comment: First, Obama is contradicting himself: he says he's kept his commitments, and then gives an excuse for why he hasn't kept some of his commitments. Second, it's not clear that "it's not for lack of trying" when it comes to the commitments he hasn't kept. For instance, he promised to introduce an immigration reform proposal, but he didn't. Congress may not have passed it, but they couldn't have stopped him from introducing it, which is what he promised. He didn't place restrictions on lobbyists serving in his administration as he said he would, he didn't create a commission to investigate whether some entitlements created work disincentives, he didn't repeal the Bush tax cuts for higher-income earners, He also promised to recognize the Armenian genocide, which he could do without Congress, but hasn't done it.

ROMNEY: Now, when the president ran for office, he said that he’d put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation -- he’d file a bill in his first year that would reform our -- our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn’t do it. He had a Democrat House and Democrat Senate, supermajority in both houses.
Comment: It's not true that Democrats had supermajorities in both houses of Congress. A "supermajority" in today's politics amounts to 60% representation, which Democrats had at best intermittently.

OBAMA: Governor Romney says he wasn’t referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it -- not E-Verify, the whole thing. That’s his policy, and it’s a bad policy.
Comment: This is guilt by association rhetoric. Just because the designer of the Arizona immigration law an adviser to Romney doesn't mean Romney accepts all of that adviser's positions. Does Obama accept all the policy positions of all his advisers?

OBAMA: Now, we’ve got to make sure that we do it in a smart way and a comprehensive way and we make the legal system better. But when we make this into a divisive political issue, and when we don’t have bipartisan support -- I can deliver, Governor, a whole bunch of Democrats to get comprehensive immigration reform done. We have not seen Republicans serious about this issue at all. And it’s time for them to get serious on it. This used to be a bipartisan issue.
Comment: First, Obama frequently touts his immigration reform proposals as "comprehensive", though one man's "comprehensive legislation" is another man's "holding one thing hostage for another" legislation. Second, Obama is indulging in "unify the country" rhetoric by accusing others of turning immigration into a "divisive" issue. Third, Obama is indulging in "bipartisan" rhetoric. Bipartisan ideas aren't necessarily good ones, after all. Finally, what counts as being "serious" about immigration (or any other issue, for that matter)? What is the proof, for instance, that Obama has been serious about immigration?

KERRY LADKA: This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola yesterday. We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?

OBAMA: [A]s soon as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team, and I gave them three instructions. Number one, beef up our security and -- and -- and procedures not just in Libya but every embassy and consulate in the region. Number two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn’t happen again. And number three, we are going to find out who did this, and we are going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them. … And when it comes to this issue, when I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable, and I am ultimately responsible for what’s taking place there, because these are my folks, and I’m the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home, you know that I mean what I say.
Comment: Obama doesn't answer Ladka's question. Presumably, this is because the matter hasn't been investigated sufficiently to say who denied the enhanced security and why, but Obama doesn't say so.

OBAMA: Governor Romney had a very different response. While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release trying to make political points. And that’s not how a commander in chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue, certainly not right when it’s happening.
Comment: Obama is accusing Romney of "politicizing" the attack on the US consulate in Libya. What does it mean to "politicize" an issue, though, and why is it bad?

ROMNEY: Well, Candy, actually, in my state, the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks came together and put together a piece of legislation, and it’s referred to as a -- as an assault weapon ban, but it had at the signing of the bill both the pro-gun and the anti- gun people came together, because it provided opportunities for both that both wanted. There were hunting opportunities, for instance, that hadn’t previously been available and so forth. So it was a mutually agreed upon piece of legislation. That’s what we need more of, Candy. What we have right now in Washington is a place that’s -- that’s gridlocked. We haven’t had -- we haven’t -- we haven’t -- we haven’t had the leadership in Washington to work on a bipartisan basis.
Comment: Romney is essentially indulging in "bipartisan" rhetoric by pointing out that pro-gun and anti-gun groups collaborated on legislation. Why is that good? How does their collaboration guarantee that the content of the legislation was good?

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