Thoughts on presidential debate #2

Much more interesting and lively than the first. Good job by moderator. Clear focus of policy differences.

My comments and questions:

Gas prices: do they really depend on US oil production? Do oil producers really respond to supply by lowering gas prices at the pump–which are controlled by futures speculators and a small number of multinational corporations to their own benefit? (See my earlier doubts whether there is really a free market for this commodity in “Oil and gas prices: ‘Inside job,'” 5/6/11.) And what can a president do about it anyway?

And why do we assume the Canadians and Mexicans will wish to make things easy for us as consumers of “North American energy”? Won’t the oil from the Canadian tar sands mainly go from Canada to Texas to China and India? Oil and gas are world commodities priced by a world market controlled by world producers, distributors, and traders–unless the US government wants to step in to cap prices and limit exports, which seems unlikely at this point.

Taxes: Romney found new ways not to specify which tax deductions he would cut, even in response to a question specifically asking about deductions for home mortgage interest, college tuition, and medical expenses. The Governor said maybe he would permit a limit of $25,000 a year in deductions and people who had enough could choose their mix. What does that do to the delicate balance in many areas, where prices are influenced by tax policy. If deductions are capped, home prices would come down, as far as I can see.

And by the way, how about capital gains taxes, estate taxes, gift taxes, payroll taxes, real estate taxes, sales taxes, state income taxes, all that? We shouldn’t be looking just at federal income tax if we are really trying to be fair to people of all incme groups.

Budget: how would both cut the deficit? Not too clear. No one wants to alarm voters.

Women earning around 3/4 of what men earn for the same work. Maybe Romney will have to answer this some day before Nov. 6, but he didn’t this evening. Obama led with Ledbetter, citing the Lilly Ledbetter Act as an early accomplishment to help women defend their salary rights. But the inequity continues….

Contraception: Romney said “every American woman” should have access, but didn’t say it should be included in insurance, did he? Again: to be continued?

Outsourcing: What has the government ever done to encourage companies to keep jobs in the US? I don’t recall it; outsourcing continues. Romney will make it more attractive for businesses to be here. How? Ah, lower tax rates, he says. The question, to me, is why companies have been getting subsidies and tax breaks to take jobs away from Americans. But now Romney is talking about solving that by setting up tariffs against China. Well, the free trade lobby sure isn’t going to like that. And by cutting regulations… as in compounding pharmacies?

Towards the middle of the event: nice clear summaries of why the country either is or isn’t better off than in January 2009. Need to see the full transcript later.

Immigration: lots of back and forth, but it’s pretty obvious to me that there isn’t going to be any policy change for a long time. Congress just doesn’t dare do it, and hasn’t for a generation. Of course, no one mentions that business is perfectly happy to employ undocumented aliens, who receive low wages and can’t strike or even complain, thereby driving down wages and working conditions for all workers. Is that fair to anyone?

The final 2-minute segments supposedly on who the two really are turned into stump speeches. But who are the two candidates as individuals? That’s a factor; remember, voters wanted to have a beer with George Bush and trusted him to walk their dogs. Well, people can find out something about Obama by reading Dreams from My Father, maybe The Audacity of Hope. Do Romney’s Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games and No Apology: The Case for American Greatness tell us who he is? As a former French teacher, I’d really like to read about his two and a half years in France and how being a missionary there influenced his world view. Or how about a nice family memoir: Mitt’s father born in Mexico, Ann’s in Wales (as he mentioned this eve)–that could be worth a lot of votes!

What about other issues like poverty, public education, unimpressive US life expectancy, corporate power in elections, air and water pollution, prison overcrowding due largely to draconian marijuana policies, prosecution of whistle-blowers and journalists, whether we are headed for more adventuresome foreign wars that create more enemies and problems than we had before? Not on the radar, it seems.

Mostly prepared speech segments, plugged in as timely and effective. I’d like to see more spontaneous thinking and speaking. Well, that’s not going to happen, especially when one slip of the tongue gets us back to the 47% and all that. I’m betting no phrase was said that hasn’t been said 10 times before. Remember Newt Gingrich saying the country would have been better off if Strom Thurmond had been president? No gaffe of that magnitude is going to happen before November 6, you can bet on it!

Bottom line: it’s always the same dynamic between an incumbent and a challenger: do you like the incumbent’s record to date and do you think it will continue in the same direction? Or do you like what the challenger proposes–always more hope and change–and do you believe he will really do it? Four years ago the joke was that conservatives feared Obama believed what he said and liberals hoped he didn’t. There are words and there are records–but it’s not always easy to tell them apart–and even harder for a member of an executive branch than of a legislative branch, where at least there are formal votes.

Do campaign promises even matter that much? A president is not a dictator and even with the best of intentions just can’t do what he wants without Congress and the courts–as we have seen during most of the current administration.

The Founders believed in separation of powers and, for better or worse, really locked us into it well.

I look forward to debate #3–even though it would be more interesting and far-ranging if the 3rd-party candidates hadn’t been disallowed.

PS From 10/17 Facebook comments:
“NYMEX once had absolute control of the world oil market. It’s not much better now. Read ‘The Asylum.'”
“The President cannot affect gas prices in a free market. Believing otherwise means you do [don’t?]believe in basic economics.”
“Don’t forget about OPEC.”

Thanks, quite right. One multinational gas and oil giant, or one international producers’ organization like OPEC, or any cartel, has a lot more influence over supply and price than a president. In my view, “free market” includes any mechanism that increases profits, such as speculation, price collusion, and acceptance of taxpayer subsidies. Presidents have sometimes tried to impose price controls, but it never turned out well.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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