Binders and fact checks and smears oh my!
Last night’s Presidential debate, round #2 of 3, was nothing like the first. A fiery and compassionate Obama took firm command of the forum from the start and, with few exceptions, dominated the debate with clarity and candor. In direct contrast, Mitt Romney seemed lost in a tangle of the misinformation web he’d spun for himself.
47% vs the Outsourcing Pioneer
Obama set the tone by immediately calling Romney out for his 47% remarks, illustrating clearly that character is what you are in the dark or, in this case, what you are in a locked room full of millionaires and billionaires. He also returned frequently to the subject of outsourcing, rightly labeling Romney an ‘outsourcing pioneer’ and alluding to the offshoring activities Romney first innovated at Bain Capital. Activities the company Romney founded is continuing to implement (see Sensata).
Sketchy 8 Trillion Arithmetic
Obama also was quick to hold Romney accountable for the tax policy his campaign website says he’s running to implement. During the debate, Romney frequently denied the assertion that his tax cut would cut rates for top earners. Almost as frequently, he said that he wants to lower rates on the middle class. These debate ‘faux pas’ (nice word for lies) directly contradict information put out by his own campaign which still states Romney seeks an across the board 20% tax cut, including a very large and lucrative cut for top earners and very small and piddly cuts for the middle class.
Obama, rightly, ignored Romney’s false claims and continued to debate based on the facts, rather than attempt to muddle around in the smoke Romney was producing in prodigious quantities all evening long. Obama re-asserted the Arithmetic showing how Romney’s across the board cuts, when combined with a 2 trillion increase in defense spending and a 1 trillion dollar extension of the Bush tax cut f0r the wealthy, would blow another 8 Trillion dollar hole in the deficit on top of the debt already piling up from the lingering remains of Bush’s failed policies. (Failed policies the republican Congress has continued to enforce through its vow to Grover Norquist never to repeal.)
Binder Full of Women
In perhaps the most bizarre exchange of the night, Romney, when asked about how he would help women gain a more equal footing in the workplace, hearkened back to a time when his management team had no women. In his, disproven by facts, anecdote, Romney claimed he produced a ‘binder full of women’ from which to select female candidates for positions in the management staff which, Romney admitted, was largely composed of men. Reaction to this comment from women has been shrill and this particular Romneyism seemed to especially grate against the sensibilities of most women who rightly felt subtly insulted and objectified.
What is interesting to note about this particular Mitt-tale is the fact that the ‘binder’ he refers to was produced by a political organization called Mass-GAP which noted the dearth of women holding leadership positions in Massachusetts. So Romney wasn’t responsible for the recommendations of these women, it was produced by a political organization concerned about the lack of women in leadership. However, to Romney’s credit, he did appoint women from the Mass-GAP list so that fully 42% of the positions held at the start of his administration were women filled. But the story doesn’t end here. Romney apparently only filled positions which he thought were unimportant with people from the Mass-GAP program. In addition, the number of women holding positions within Massachusetts government, overall, declined by 3% during the time that Romney served. Hardly a stunning record of someone attempting to appear to care for women’s jobs.
What was most glaring, however, was his failure to mention the Fair Pay Act and, instead, rely on a mostly untrue and bumbling anecdote. I would venture a guess that women aren’t as concerned about a President picking women from a binder for cabinet positions as they are about equal access to jobs and access to a fair compensation at work. And though representation in the cabinet is important (Obama has appointed many women to these positions including political rival Hillary), what is more important is that those visible values fill out in larger society.
Obama noted he supported The Fair Pay Act and spoke for minutes passionately about the role of women in all aspects of American life. No binders. Just policies to help women. Even more importantly, Obama alluded to women’s rights which would likely come under fire during a Romney Administration. Two Supreme Court justices and a VP nominee who has lead a crusade in Congress to overturn Roe could very well spell an end to women’s reproductive rights in our country. In addition, Obama pointed out that Romney’s past statements about ‘ending Planned Parenthood’ was another assault on women’s freedoms and access to family planning services. To this point Obama rightly noted that it’s not just about women, it’s about families too, a point that appeared lost on Romney.
The ‘Act of Terror’
Perhaps the most poignant event in the debate occurred when Romney began to assert that Obama had failed to identify the Libya attacks as a terrorist incident. This line of attack follows the presumptuous rhetoric that republicans and Romney have followed ever since the Benghazi Consulate was over-run. The day after the attacks, Romney held a press conference accusing the Obama administration of ‘failures.’ This political capitalism has also included a number of, rather fake, teary eyed speeches about those lost in the attacks. Romney’s overplaying of these speeches has lead family members of deceased security and diplomatic personnel to publicly ask Romney to stop using their family members deaths as political props. And though Romney appears to have toned down the rhetoric on diplomatic service member’s deaths, he has continued to presume that the Obama Administration is entirely responsible and at fault for these attacks, making bald and outrageous assertions before any evidence is produced.
Obama rightly called out Romney for his politicization of American deaths saying in a sharp tone that invoked all the power of the Commander and Chief of US forces: “It is offensive!”
And it is, this smarmy politicking over the deaths of Americans, this failure to stand behind American government’s effort to get to the bottom of the terrorist attacks, and the blatant betrayal of US forces by a party who only seems to care about political gain. But Romney continued up this dark path of demonization and unsupported claims. In his, not the first, allusion to misinformation produced by Fox News, Romney glommed onto the false claim that the Obama Administration didn’t recognize the Benghazi incident as a terrorist attack until two weeks afterward.
In reply to this skewed claim, Obama noted that he held a speech in the Rose Garden about the attacks, claiming that he stated ‘no act of terror would go unpunished.’ Romney refuted the President directly, saying the President said no such thing. Crowley, who appeared to be well prepared to deal with the issues in this debate, had a transcript of the President’s speech on hand and confirmed, to audience applause, that the President had indeed said what he claimed and that Romney was making an incorrect assertion.
Revelation of the Least Truthful Presidential Bid in Modern Memory
This direct fact-checking of Romney’s false statements and visible deconstruction of his entirely political and self-serving rhetoric seemed to crystallize the public’s view of Romney last night. Romney has been accused on all fronts, from Newt Gingrich to Ron Paul, from Rick Perry to Rick Santorum and, finally, to Obama himself, as running a dishonest campaign. He has visibly contradicted himself and changed positions on key policies time and time again. His campaign staff famously labeled this tactic ‘etch e sketch.’ And the informed public seems to view what Romney says as general ‘malarkey.’
But the malarkey reached a new level of ugliness when Romney began to make up stories about diplomatic security forces in Benghazi and official US response to attacks there. His self-serving rhetoric directly harmed the families involved even as it undermined ongoing government efforts to determine the attacks’ cause, reduce risk of future attacks, and care for the bereaved families of those who were lost. Further, republican efforts to de-fund diplomatic security were entirely off the radar as Romney and republicans used every trick in their attempt to turn the Benghazi attacks into a political silver bullet aimed at the President.
This ‘ugly lie’ grew and took a life of its own. Endlessly parroted by right wing outlets, the political right engaged in a war of words to degrade and denigrate US diplomatic forces. And this act and abetment by a politician running for the highest political office in the land is unforgivable.
What we witnessed last night was the unraveling of that extraordinarily damaging lie. This event is likely to send deep fractures through the Romney campaign, through the republican party itself, and to those billionaires, like the Kochs and the Murdochs, who have done so much harm to the American people. It is not the end to their ‘Castle in the Sand’ empires, but it may well be a sign of the start of their disintegration. (The final blows will come from the rising tide of climate change itself, but that is a subject for another article).
Closing Statement: The Eloquence of Obama Returns
At the end of a debate that, often, seemed to balance on the edge of a knife, Obama reclaimed his oratory eloquence to deliver this impassioned final appeal to the American people.
Barry, I think a lot of this campaign, maybe over the last four years, has been devoted to this nation that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer.
That’s not what I believe. I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known.
I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded. But I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules, because that’s how our economy’s grown. That’s how we built the world’s greatest middle class.
And — and that is part of what’s at stake in this election. There’s a fundamentally different vision about how we move our country forward.
I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.
Folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.
And I want to fight for them. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds.
When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a G.I. Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn’t a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country. And I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That’s why I’m asking for your vote and that’s why I’m asking for another four years.