8:56: CNN talking heads all exclaiming how desperately important this debate is and how Romney must shake up the race and blah blah blah. David Gergen, surprisingly, says the most intelligent thing when he says that the most important thing is probably who appears most relaxed and at ease. Because, frankly, that is the most important thing. The only people who will change their minds tonight are people who engage with meaningless bullshit. That is why we are watching tonight: to see whose meaningless bullshit is least damaging. HOORAY FOR MODERN PAUL TICKS.
9:00: Jim Lehrer provides YOUR debate boilerplate. He promises specifics! Because he can’t say “vagueness will be allowed.”
9:01: Handshake. Romney looks uncomfortable and strained already.
9:01: JOBS! What are the major differences between the two of you re: jobs? Obama: Thanks, BTW, it’s my wedding anniversary, charming joke (Romney fake laugh). Things really sucked, but we’re starting to turn it around – private sector, housing rebound, auto industry. Romney wants to cut taxes on the rich and snip regulations. I want to invest in education, energy, small businesses, end the wars, and deal with the deficit, unlike Romney, who wants to do Bush things all over again. “Economic patriotism.”
9:06: JOBS! Romney: Strained joke re: Obama anniversary. Romney talks about people who are begging him for help and how he gave them a shiny quarter if they danced for him – no, sorry. Romney’s not going to cut taxes for the rich! That’s silly talk! He’s talking really fast as he goes through his five-point non-specific plan. How non-specific is this plan? Number four is “balance the budget.” That’s it. Balance the budget. Well, gosh, Mitt, nobody thought of that shit before, did they? Also Obama is for bigger gubmint, in fact “trickle down” gubmint (which is a very clever rhetorical bait and switch by Romney, who grins as he says it, the smug fuck).
9:09: Lehrer asks Obama about trickle-down. Obama talks more about education spending, then goes to the tax code – he wants to lower the corporate tax rate but remove corporate loopholes, especially those that benefit those evil companies that move jobs overseas. And then energy! But good energy, not bad energy. Also we need to close our deficit. This is a series of total non-answers from Obama, and then he goes to Romney’s tax cuts and increased military spending, which he should hammer Mitt on at every chance.
9:11: Lehrer offers Romney the chance to ask the President a question directly about what he just said. Romney responds by going to his talking points, which is NOT A QUESTION, MITT, jesus christ Jim Lehrer just gave you a gift on a platter. Twelve minutes in and all these two guys are doing is agreeing with each other. Mitt then switches to slamming Obama about oil pipelines and coal, because he isn’t winning Kentucky and West Virginia by enough points yet I suppose. Mitt then claims he will have no tax cuts that will add to the deficit, which HA HA HA HA HA HA oh god.
9:14: Obama responds! He promised to cut taxes for middle class families and he did, because the middle class is awesome and needs cars and computers. Romney’s five-trillion dollar tax cut! Obama very smartly points out that Romney can’t make his tax cut revenue-neutral without raising taxes on the middle class by killing their deductions, which is of course absolutely true. Romney stammers during Obama’s rundown as he gets slammed because he is a whiny bitch.
9:16: Romney says Obama is “inaccurate” and then says “well, I’m not gonna put any tax plan in place that adds to the deficit, so nyah nyah nyah” because he didn’t propose a fucking 5 trillion dollar tax cut, and then basically straight up calls Obama a liar, and then says there are a bunch of studies that are on HIS side and there are so many studies, really, so who can say. Then he points out that individual rates also help small businesses and therefore they can hire more people.
9:18: Jim Lehrer asks Obama if he challenges Romney’s description of his plan to not do the tax plan he’s been running on. Obama: “For eighteen months he’s been running on this plan and now five months before the election he says “never mind.”” BOOOOOOOOM! “It’s math.” BOOOOOOOOM! See, I said that Obama didn’t like Romney, and this is the sort of thing I’m talking about. For Obama, that was grade-A-nuclear assault rhetoric. Then he points out that he and Romney have different definitions of “small businesses,” including Donald Trump, and then he makes fun of Trump because fuck that guy.
9:21: Jim Lehrer notes that they’re off-schedule but so what. Romney starts talking about small businesses that are large, and then points out they hire lots of people, and then starts talking about really small businesses because… they are not large. He then cites the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which is a GOP shill group so really, duh. Then some Romneyblather about deductions, nothing specific. Obama: “If you believe you can cut taxes by 5 trillion and add 2 trillion in defense spending, and you don’t think you’ll pick up the tab, then maybe you should vote for Romney. Oh, and we tried this with George W. Bush and none of it fucking worked. I’m just saying, let’s do what we did during the Clinton years, when things were awesome.” Granted, there was a tech bubble then, but we’ll just skip that bit. Romney needs a couple more seconds to whine that he doesn’t have a 5 trillion dollar tax cut, because that’s not his plan! His plan is new! New! It will put people back to work, because new!
9:26: The deficit! How do you fix it? Romney: It’s not just an economic issue – it’s a moral issue! (Says the guy who pays a tax rate lower than pretty much anybody reading this.) He promises to kill Obamacare, to kill PBS, to make government more efficient, and turn the USA into Yugoslavia. Also Obama doubled the deficit. OBAMA: Well, when I came into office, I had a trillion dollar deficit because of your party’s wars and tax cuts. We’ve killed government programs we didn’t need, like defense programs, even some education programs that didn’t work, we went after Medicare fraud, et cetera. I put forward a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan, cuts:taxes ratio at 5:3. Bipartisanly! Balanced! Then Obama references the time when every GOP nominee was offered a 10:1 cuts:taxes plan and he refused it, and points out that Romney and the rest of the GOP are retards for not taking that deal.
9:35: Sorry, bit of a site meltdown there. Okay, Obama is talking about corporate tax rates and that he’s figured out how to pay for it, e.g. not giving companies deductions for outsourcing, then talks about oil company deductions and says it’s time to end it. Romney then complains that green energy got 90 billion worth of tax breaks and oil got 2.8 billion and that’s not fair to oil companies and Obama only picks loser companies, and then Romney says that outsourcing deduction doesn’t exist, and then there’s some talk about Medicaid block grants. Because states know better, and governors begged for more power, like politicians never do that.
9:40: Social Security! Obama: The basic structure is sound, but let’s talk about the values behind it and Medicare (and he’s bringing in Medicare, as he correctly notes that it drives government expenses far more than SS). Talks about his grandmother and the word “entitlements,” and says old people deserve their SS and Medicare, and figure out how the money is being spent, then points out that Obamacare stopped overpayment on Medicare Advantage and used that money for preventative care.
9:43: Romney! Immediately starts bullshitting about Medicare Advantage savings and claims Obama is cutting Medicare for them. Then Romney, who says he can cut down the deficit, says he would put that 700 bllion right back into Medicare. Obama says “by the way, he’ll turn Medicare into a voucher program.” Romney DESPERATELY says “that’s for future people! Not old people right now!” Obama accurately explains the idea of a voucher program, then points out that Romney, in fairness, has said they’ll keep regular Medicare as well, but whoops that won’t work because Medicare will just get all the really sick old people until it collapses from expense. Then he basically calls Romney a bullshitter, and points out that repealing Obamacare will give seniors additional expenses immediately (good work to point that out).
9:48: Romney! He likes choice! He won’t say, right out, that he likes voucher programs (as Jim Lehrer asks him) then says that Medicare Advantage was envisioned by the Clinton administration. Obama: private insurers have to make a profit and they have higher administrative costs, so the money has to come from somewhere, and when you move to a voucher system you’re gonna have people paying out of pocket, and Medicare is cheaper. Romney says the private sector is HAPPY TIME SEXY.
9:51: Regulation! Romney: it’s essential! I need to know them! (So I can exploit them!) Dodd-Frank is bad! It guarantees banks “too big to fail!” I would repeal and replace it! Obama: “I think this is a great example of why we have been in such an enormous economic crisis was prompted by reckless behaviour across the board.” Bit of a weird sentence there, and then he points out that DF requires greater capital requirements, that banks need a plan for what happens when they go tits-up (which is a more accurate portrayal of what Romney said, but Obama really should have pointed out that Romney was full of crap there), but then rebounds by saying that Wall Street “needs more regulation,” and if you disagree with that then Romney is your guy. Romney complains that it has been TWO YEARS since Dodd-Frank was enacted and a lot of the provisions have not yet been defined, skipping over the fact that it is HIS party who should have been doing that.
9:56: Health care! Obamacare! Romney talks to the little people who cannot afford insurance! Then he starts complaining about Obamacare, which is basically his own program except applied on the federal level. He eventually gets around to making his only serious argument, which is that healthcare should be applied at the state level, then says that the president should have been focusing on JERBS. Obama rightly points out that people were terrified of medical bankruptcy, of insurance companies fucking them over, then does the dime-explanation of the ACA. Just as a sidenote, CNN’s little lines are through the ROOF for Obama on this. Then he points out that they used Romneycare as a model and Romney just looks down at his notes. Romney whines that the ACA didn’t get a single Republican vote, then complains about taxes and the Medicare cost reductions board. Lines go through the roof when Romney talks about “bipartisanship.” Obama responds by pointing out that he used Republican ideas and that it’s the same plan. Then he goes to the Medicare board thing and says, welp, you can either have people go without coverage, or you can find ways in the systems to save money by using the most effective treatments (implying that GUESS WHAT ROMNEY PICKS, of course).
10:06: Romneyplan! Insurance company regulations! (I guess he likes those.) And we don’t need no board of people telling us what works! We need performance pay instead!
10:08: It’s time to say it: so far Romney, much as I dislike him, is doing a good job in this debate. He’s staying to his talking points and hammering hard. He is mastering the stylistic, empty bullshit that is necessary. Obama is doing the better job attacking his opponent’s unpopular positions and lack of details.
10:10: A LONG thing from Obama about how Romney won’t tell anybody the details of any of his plans. “Is Romney keeping his plans secret because they’re TOO GOOD?” BOOOM. Romney responds by saying “well, if I say it’s my way or the highway, I don’t get a lot done.” Then he compares himself to Reagan because of COURSE he does. Interestingly, comparing himself to Reagan does not move the little lines in Colorado. Then he says he REALLY HAS A PLAN for people with pre-existing conditions! Really!
10:13: The role of government! Obama: Government should keep people safe, that’s the job. Government can create opportunities. Then one-ups Romney by comparing his view of government to Lincoln. (Romney thinking: “WELL I AM LIKE WASHINGTON, OBAMA! DOUBLE INFINITY!”) Then baits Romney on welfare reform, and says he wants to hire more teachers and Romney doesn’t. Romney then says he loves schools! How dare anybody say he hates schools! Then blah blah role of gubmint is in the Constitution. He believes in not cutting military spending! Then he talks about helping the unfortunate and how we should do that. This is the most generic stuff he’s said all evening, then he goes to “trickle-down government” again, so I guess Team Romney really thinks it’s a great line.
10:17: Education! Romney: state and local level, but the federal government can help maybe! Then he straight-up proposes a voucher program. Lehrer asks if Obama differs from Romney, and Obama says straight up: well, if Romney wants to cut taxes, he’s going to have to cut somewhere, and education is part of it, and that would be a lot of cuts. (This only tests okay at best.) Talks about making community college more accessible and college more affordable by nationalizing student loans.
10:22: Romney: “You’re not entitled to your own facts. I have no plan to cut education funding.” He has no specifics and won’t come up with them, but he promises not to cut education spending! Then he starts attacking on green jobs again and Obama looks ACTUALLY PISSED for the first time all debate. Then he grins when Romney starts talking about his experience. Obama wants to respond, but Lehrer won’t let him.
10:24: Bipartisanship! As President, Romney will sit down with Democrats and Republicans and do stuff together and sing Kumbaya and there are SO MANY PROBLEMS and we need LEADERSHIP. Obama has a tight grin and responds by pointing out that since President Romney would repeal a bunch of laws on his first day Democrats probably wouldn’t be happy about that. Then goes over a list of good things he did, including KILLING BIN LADEN (finally he mentions it! In under the wire!). Obama points out you need to say more than just “I’ll sit down with them.” Then he says, straight-up, that Romney has no fucking balls and cowers beneath the extreme right.
10:28: Closing statements! Obama: Americans are awesome people. Mentions auto workers, because he’d be stupid not to do that. He’ll keep fighting. And he did things, even though he came in with a full order of shit sandwich.
10:30: Romney: This is the most important election ever! Either you can vote for the President, who will punch the middle class in the balls and ruin you all with his healthcare plan that is just like the one I invented, or you can vote for me, and I will fix everything by cutting taxes and not cutting any of the spending you like except I will not tell you in advance.
10:32: and that is that. It’s hard for me to grade them. Romney went strong negative where he thought he could get away with it, which was most places. Obama went more targeted-negative and then spoke more generally in positive terms about policy. I’d say this is a tie, but who knows.