Mitt Romney’s clear victory over President Obama in last night’s debate — during which the challenger didn’t land any knockdown punches but won essentially every round on the scorecard and dominated the bout from start to finish — was principally a result of his success in two areas. The first was his effectiveness in beating back the main point of Obama’s ad thrust and stump message across the past several months — that Romney ostensibly wants to cut taxes for the rich and raise them for the middle class. Few people who watched the debate are likely to find those ads very convincing in the future. The second was that Romney attacked Obama’s two favorite things: Obamacare and “green energy” crony capitalism.
On the former, Romney highlighted that Obamacare would raise health costs, siphon $716 billion out of Medicare, and institute an unelected board of 15 people (the Independent Payment Advisory Board) that would be empowered to make further decisions affecting the availability of medical care. He also emphasized that Obamacare is already adversely affecting small businesses’ willingness to hire workers. While he could have said more about Obamacare’s dangerous consolidation of power and its grave threat to liberty, this was a rather effective list. He concluded it with this gem: “I just don’t know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis…and spent his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people.”
In response, Obama predictably claimed that “the irony is that we’ve seen [the Obamacare] model work really well in Massachusetts, because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model.” Romney — who had already declared that “the best course for health care is to…craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state,” and who had already emphasized that “one of the magnificent things about this country is the whole idea that states are the laboratories of democracy” — then hit Obama with one his best counterpunches of the night:
“First of all...I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you did instead was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote. As a matter of fact, when Massachusetts did something quite extraordinary, elect[ing] a Republican senator to stop Obamacare, you pushed it through anyway. So entirely on a partisan basis, instead of bringing America together and having a discussion on this important topic, you pushed through something that you and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid thought was the best answer and drove it through. What we did, in a legislature 87 percent Democrat, we worked together. Two hundred legislators in my legislature — only two voted against the plan by the time we were finished.”
If there was any response during the debate that likely resonated with swing voters, it was that one.
Romney immediately added, “What were some differences?
“We didn’t raise taxes. You’ve raised them by a trillion dollars under Obamacare. We didn’t cut Medicare. Of course, we don’t have Medicare, but we didn’t cut Medicare by $716 billion. We didn’t put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they’re going to receive. We didn’t…put people in a position where they’re going to lose the insurance they had and they wanted.”
Romney returned to the bipartisan message a few moments later, conveying that “my experience as a governor is if I come in and — and lay down a piece of legislation and say it’s my way or the highway, I don’t get a lot done.”
Shortly thereafter, he added that the right course was not to have “the federal government taking over health care for the entire nation, whisking aside the 10th Amendment” in the process.
But Romney didn’t merely score when attacking Obamacare. He also went after Obama’s other pet item: “green energy” crony capitalism. Obama’s apparent obsession with fast trains and slow, expensive cars has been noted, as has his opposition to oil derricks and his fondness for ugly expanses of giant windmills (which often prove fatal to one of our most prominent national symbols). In fact, during this very debate, Obama invoked Lincoln — but not as the man who saved the union, or as the man who freed the slaves, or as the man who so thoroughly understood the Founding and adhered to its principles. Rather, he invoked him (once again) as the man who “said, let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad.”
Obama, however, did not appear to be prepared for Romney’s rejoinder after Obama accused Romney of favoring tax breaks for oil companies. Romney replied, “[T]he Department of Energy has said the tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year. And it’s actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that’s been in place for a hundred years. Now….”
Obama interrupted and said, “It’s time to end it.”
Looking directly at Obama, Romney continued, “and in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world. Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives, and you say Exxon and Mobil — actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth. But you know, if we get that tax rate from 35 percent down to 25 percent, why...that $2.8 billion is on the table….That’s probably not going to survive, [if] you get that rate down to 25 percent.
“But — but don’t forget, you put $90 billion — like 50 years’ worth of breaks — into solar and wind, to — to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I — I had a friend who said, you don’t just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers. All right? So — so this is not — this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy-secure.”
This was cleverly done, all the way down to quoting a friend to soften the money line just the right amount. But Obama appeared to like it even less when Romney returned to this topic later in the debate. In response to a rambling Obama answer to a question about the proper role of government — during which the president talked about education, job training, and “making college affordable,” before saying that “budgets reflect choices” — Romney issued the following reply, while Obama stared at the podium and looked to be practically seething,
“But you make a very good point, which is that the — the place you put your money makes a pretty clear indication of where your heart is. You put $90 billion into — into green jobs. And — and I — look, I’m all in favor of green energy. Ninety billion — that...that would have hired 2 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, they’ve gone out of business. A number of them happened to be owned…by people who were contributors to your campaigns.”
Immediately thereafter, he tied Obamacare back in:
“Look, the right course for — for America’s government — we were talking about the role of government — is not to become the economic player picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the health care system that — that has existed in this country for — for a long, long time and has produced the best health records in the world. The right answer for government is to say, how do we make the private sector become more efficient and more effective?”
Not long afterward, in his closing statement, Romney said, “If the president’s reelected, Obamacare will be fully installed. In my view, that’s going to mean a whole different way of life….” He immediately added, “…for people who counted on the insurance plan they had in the past.” But he could have just left it there, at “way of life.” For Obamacare would mean a whole different way of life for the American people and a wholly different conception of government’s proper role in a free society.
For those who believe in limited government, in the spirit of the Founders and Lincoln, last night was a good night.