Monday, October 8, 2012

Civility Watchdog: October 3rd Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in Denver, CO

Following are excerpts from the presidential debate [White House Transcript, RCP Transcript, CNN Transcript] between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012, hosted and moderated by Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour:

ROMNEY: "I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that is not the case, all right? I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."
Comment: Romney sounds like he's accusing Obama's campaign of engaging in the "big lie" tactic. (He also sounds like he's accusing his sons of using it, too!)

OBAMA: "If you believe that we can cut taxes by $5 trillion and add $2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for -- $7 trillion -- just to give you a sense, over 10 years, that’s more than our entire defense budget -- and you think that by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do, somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Governor Romney’s plan may work for you. But I think math, common sense, and our history shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth. Look, we’ve tried this -- we’ve tried both approaches. The approach that Governor Romney is talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003. And we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years. We ended up moving from surplus to deficits, and it all culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Bill Clinton tried the approach that I’m talking about. We created 23 million new jobs. We went from deficit to surplus. And businesses did very well. So in some ways we’ve got some data on which approach is more likely to create jobs and opportunity for Americans."
Comment: This is very poor reasoning. In particular, it's faulty reasoning of the "false causation" variety. For Obama is stating that there was good job growth during the Clinton presidency (1993-2000) and poor job growth during the presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2008). Then Obama notes that different policies were enacted by Clinton and Bush, and concludes that the different rates of job growth occurred because of the different policies. But this argument is only valid if the only difference between these two time periods was the different economic policies. But, of course, there are lots of other things -- economic decisions and states of affairs overseas, for one thing -- that could have contributed to the different rates of job growth. (And, during the Clinton presidency, a Republican Congress influenced economic policy from 1995 onward.) Economics is a social science, and it's very complicated. Obama's argument (an argument that Clinton himself has made) is very simplistic. It's as if someone were to point out that Democrats were voted control of Congress in 2006, took office in 2007, and the economy went sour in 2008, and therefore conclude that Democrats therefore caused the downturn. To draw the sort of conclusion Obama wants to draw you really need experimental data, not historical data. And that's hard to come by in economics.

ROMNEY: "And we talk about evidence. Look at the evidence of the last four years. It’s absolutely extraordinary. We’ve got 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work in this country. It’s just -- we’ve got -- when the President took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today; economic growth this year slower than last year; and last year slower than the year before. Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today."
Comment: Romney is making the "failed policies" assertion against Obama. But he's using "false causation" reasoning -- the same sort of faulty, simplistic argument Obama is using to dismiss Romney's economic policies. Would a different set of policies have yielded better results than Obama's? Again, experimental data would resolve the issue, but that's the kind of data that's hard to get in economics.

OBAMA: "I want to talk about the values behind Social Security and Medicare, and then talk about Medicare because that’s the big driver of our deficits right now. My grandmother, some of you know, helped to raise me -- my grandparents did. My grandfather died a while back. My grandmother died three days before I was elected President. And she was fiercely independent. … And the reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare. She had worked all her life, put in this money, and understood that there was a basic guarantee, a floor under which she could not go. And that’s the perspective I bring when I think about what’s called entitlements. The name itself implies some sense of dependency on the part of these folks. These are folks who've worked hard, like my grandmother, and there are millions of people out there who are counting on this. So my approach is to say, how do we strengthen the system over the long term."
Comment: Obama speaks as if there's a disagreement about values rather than methods. Romney and Obama agree that their should be a government system that helps out the elderly. They differ on how it should work -- e.g., whether we should have a single-payer system that pays for health care for the elderly or a voucher / premium support system that helps them purchase health insurance. The question is an empirical one about what system works better at attaining something we value (i.e., health care for the elderly). But Obama seems to be implying that Romney doesn't share the value at all, an implication that amounts to derisive name-calling.

ROMNEY: "You put $90 billion into green jobs. And, look, I’m all in favor of green energy. Ninety billion -- that would have hired two million teachers. Ninety billion dollars. And these businesses, many of them have gone out of business. I think about half of them -- of the ones that have been invested in have gone out of business. A number of them happen to be owned by people who were contributors to your campaigns."
Comment: Romney notes that green energy businesses that got government money were people who donated money to Obama's campaign. Romney doesn't say it, but the implication is that something illicit occurred, where Obama rewarded campaign donors with government investment money. If Romney has evidence that this is what happened, he should say so, rather than making an unsubstantiated accusation of wrongdoing (which amounts to demonizing).

LEHRER: "And so I want to ask, finally here -- and remember, we’ve got three minutes total time here. And the question is this: Many of the legislative functions of the federal government right now are in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock. If elected, in your case -- if reelected, in your case -- what would you do about that? Governor?"

ROMNEY: "As President, I will sit down on day one -- actually, the day after I get elected, I'll sit down with leaders, the Democrat leaders as well as Republican leaders, as we did in my state -- we met every Monday for a couple of hours, talked about the issues and the challenges in our state, in that case. We have to work on a collaborative basis, not because we're going to compromise our principles, but because there's common ground. … And Republicans and Democrats both love America, but we need to have leadership -- leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done, and could not care less if it's a Republican or a Democrat. I've done it before. I'll do it again."

OBAMA: "Well, first of all, I think Governor Romney is going to have a busy first day, because he's also going to repeal Obamacare, which will not be very popular among Democrats as you're sitting down with them. But, look, my philosophy has been I will take ideas from everybody -- Democrat or Republican -- as long as they're advancing the cause of making middle-class families stronger and giving ladders of opportunity to the middle class. … And so part of leadership and governing is both saying what it is that you are for, but also being willing to say no to some things. And I've got to tell you, Governor Romney, when it comes to his own party during the course of this campaign, has not displayed that willingness to say no to some of the more extreme parts of his party."
Comment: Romney offers "unify the country" rhetoric without giving much in the way of specifics about how he'd unify people. Obama makes a good point that, by repealing Obamacare, Romney would be upsetting the supporters of that health care reform and making it difficult for him to unify the country. (Though, the same could be said to Obama: how does he intend to unify the country by keeping Obamacare in place, given that it is unpopular with many Americans?) Obama also indulges in "extremism" rhetoric. Neither candidate says that he will refrain from calling his opponents names and will chastise his own supporters and members of his own party if they resort to name-calling.

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