Having predicted Obama’s reelection (December 2011 posting), I have not been following politics. However, last night I attended a friend’s debate-watching party in Cambridge and ended up watching the entire televised event.
If Romney is going to lose, he could go out with integrity, e.g., telling the woman who asked about tax breaks to be eliminated “Yes I will get rid of mortgage interest deduction because it is a huge subsidy to an industry that we should not be subsidizing.” Yet he does not appear to be heading down this path, preferring instead to pander to voters and tell them what they want to hear. Everyone is going to better off under Romney. The military will get more funding, citizens will pay lower taxes, the health care industry will continue to be showered with Medicare funds, nobody will have to work harder (except for the 20+ million unemployed or discouraged), etc. It sounds too good to be true.
When repeatedly attacked for his personal finances, Romney could have pointed out that his apparently low personal tax rate from investment income is due to the fact that it comes from corporations that already pay the world’s highest tax rates. Instead, he remained silent.
Incumbency has been a huge advantage in a country that is fearful of change. But as I watched Romney score point after point against Obama for having been associated with Americans for four years, it occurred to me that incumbency in a sclerotic country freighted down with entitlements, pension obligations, and special interest lobbyists is a liability in a debate. It really isn’t Obama’s fault that Congress won’t do anything without permission from lobbyists or that a huge number of American workers cannot be employed economically, if for no other reason than a lot of the stuff that makes the U.S. such a bad place to do business is happening at the state level. But Obama promised hope and change four years ago and now he looks bad for not delivering.
Romney kept referring back to Ronald Reagan, which struck me as naive. Reagan was able to foster growth, but the country was not smothered with debt and other problems. Public employee unions were relatively new. There weren’t huge numbers of retired state workers on $100,000+/year pensions that needed to be carried by current workers, for example. Reagan’s U.S. economy did not have to compete with China and India.
Speaking of China, the China bashing made me ashamed. Obama talked about his heroic success in preventing Americans from buying inexpensive tires from China. Obama is proud of the fact that America’s millions of unemployed people must pay higher tire prices because 1000 union jobs were preserved (we don’t know how many jobs were lost due to China blocking our imports in retaliation). Romney, meanwhile, talked several times about doing something aggressive to China because they are competing unfairly somehow. Apparently no politician is willing to stand up and say “China is full of people who worked hard in school and now work hard at their jobs, which is why their economy is growing so fast.”
My strongest impression was that our political system is not equipped to deal with reality.