In the vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan said that "Mitt Romney is a car guy." If Ryan meant a used car guy, I would agree. Romney is a used car salesman who will lie about anything to "make the sale." Bill Clinton captured Romney's used car salesman schtick well:
I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. I mean, I thought, “Wow! Here’s old Moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy, I missed you all these last two years!” But I was paying attention these past two years. And it was like one of these Bain Capital deals where, you know, he’s the closer. So he shows up, doesn’t really know much about the deal and says, “tell me what I’m supposed to say to close.” [Emphasis supplied.]To close and get the coffee, Romney has to lie. And if there is one thing Romney is good at, it is lying. He may not have invented lying, but he may have perfected it. I always thought Ari Fleischer was the best liar in public life because he had no conscience whatsoever about telling bald-faced lies. (By contrast, Scott McClellan's downfall came as a result of having a conscience about telling bald-faced lies.) That's why Fleischer is truly the best Romney surrogate out there. If ever a spokesperson and a political candidate were made for each other, it is Romney and Fleischer. They both lie with impunity and without conscience. About EVERYTHING!
So how do you deal with that type of political opponent? One who goes beyond the bounds of spin, pulling facts out of context, and the normal truth stretching one sees in politics? How do you deal with bald-faced lying in an era where the media simply is too inept or too corrupt to do its job? Vice President Joe Biden demonstrated an effective way to do it in a certain debate setting. But Biden's circumstances are different from those of President Barack Obama.
First, Biden is the vice president on the ticket—he does not have to worry about his favorables (VP candidates have played the attack dog role for a reason). Second, Biden's debate opponent, Ryan, was simply not as good a liar as Romney is. Remember, Romney made his fortune by essentially, being a good liar. It really defines who Romney is. Third, the vice presidential debate format lent itself to the approach Biden implemented. Tuesday night's debate will be a town hall, a completely different animal. Fourth, Obama is simply not the type of person who enjoys that type of political combat. He has to be true to himself (indeed what made Biden's debate performance really work was its authenticity—it was pure Joe Biden.) So what should Obama do Tuesday? My recommendations on the flip (worth the price you paid for them).
In the town hall debate Tuesday night at Hofstra University, the moderator will be CNN's Candy Crowley. This is unfortunate in that Crowley is
an imbecile not the sharpest pencil in the box. Because of this, Crowley may decide that certain issues need "coverage" that most people do not care about. How to deal with this? Well, you can't ignore these questions when they come from "ordinary Americans" chosen by Gallup (BTW, being undecided about this election is not ordinary or rational, but there you go). But when Crowley decides to ask the questions, I think they can safely be ignored and the president can move the topic to whatever he wants to talk about.
But what should that be? It seems to me there are three major points I would want to make about Romney on the issues that he has been lying about: (1) His $5 trillion tax cut plan primarily for the rich simply does not add up; (2) he wants to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher plan; and (3) he wants to return us to Bush policies across the board.
These points have been made effectively in ad campaigns and in speeches, most particularly in Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention. But Obama needs to make them on Tuesday night in his own words. That said, there are models that can be used in the town hall format. Suppose a question is presented on taxes (most likely to Romney), what can the president say? Biden said:
[Under the Obama plan] [t]he middle class will pay less and people making $1 million or more will begin to contribute slightly more. Let me give you one concrete example. The continuation of the Bush tax cuts -- we are arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire. Of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, $800 million -- billion of that goes to people making a minimum of $1 million.That's not bad. Here's what's missing—George W. Bush. The Romney plan is Bush policies on steroids. Obama actually said something along those lines in his first debate performance:
We see no justification in these economic times for those, and they're patriotic Americans. They're not asking for this continued tax cut. They're not suggesting it, but my friends are insisting on it; 120,000 families by continuing that tax cut will get an additional $500 billion in tax relief in the next 10 years and their income is an average of $8 million.
We want to extend permanently the middle-class tax cut [...] permanently[.] These guys won't allow us to. You know what they're saying? We say "let's have a vote -- let's have a vote on the middle-class tax cut and let's have a vote on the upper (ph) tax cut; let's go ahead and vote on it." They're saying no. They're holding hostage the middle class tax cut to the super wealthy. And on top of that, they've got another tax cut coming that's $5 trillion that all of the studies point out will [...] give another [...] $250,000 a year to those 120,000 families and raise taxes for people who are middle income with a child by $2,000 a year.
This is unconscionable. There is no need for this. The middle class got knocked on their heels. The great recession crushed them. They need some help now. The last people who need help are 120,000 families for another -- another $500 billion tax cut over the next 10 years.
I would just say this to the American people. If you believe that we can cut taxes by $5 trillion and add $2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for -- $7 trillion, just to give you a sense, over 10 years that’s more than our entire defense budget -- and you think that by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do, somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Governor Romney’s plan may work for you.That's a good answer from Obama. But it's missing something. Do you see what it is? Yes, the word BUSH. Politics is not for nuance. Politics is for repetition and sledgehammers. BUSH needs to be high up in the word cloud on Tuesday night, imo.
But I think math, common sense and our history shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth. Look, we’ve tried this -- we’ve tried both approaches. The approach that Governor Romney’s talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003. And we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years. We ended up moving from surplus to deficits. And it all culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Bill Clinton tried the approach that I’m talking about. We created 23 million new jobs. We went from deficit to surplus, and businesses did very well.
So in some ways, we’ve got some data on which approach is more likely to create jobs and opportunity for Americans, and I believe that the economy works best when middle-class families are getting tax breaks so that they’ve got some money in their pockets and those of us who have done extraordinarily well because of this magnificent country that we live in, that we can afford to do a little bit more to make sure we’re not blowing up the deficit.
Of course Obama faced another obstacle—Romney's bald-faced lying. And that gets to another issue the president must address—the fact that Romney is lying and hiding from the American People. From his tax returns, to the details of his tax plan, to the details of his plan to end Medicare as we know it, to his plans to gut women's rights and beyond, Romney has lied and hidden everything from the American People. How to deal with that?
I think you just have to say it. Does it require the L word? No it does not. There are nice turns of phrases that work here. Consider these:
(1) Gov. Romney won't be straight with the American people.
(2) He's not being candid about his plans.
(3) Gov. Romney wants you to forget everything he has said for the past 2 years.
(4) Gov. Romney won't tell you the details of his tax plan.
(5) Gov. Romney wants you to forget his promise to fight to end women's reproductive rights.
And here is one that is not strictly about Romney's lying, but it is an important point:
Mitt Romney does not want you to know that everything he is proposing was tried already, by George W. Bush. Those policies failed and led to foreign policy disasters and the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression. He wants to take America back to the Bush years. He thinks America has forgotten the failures of George W. Bush and thinks we're ready to repeat those mistakes. I know America has not forgotten and we will not go back. We will continue to move forward getting out of the ditch the policies favored by George W. Bush and Mitt Romney put us in.Hey, it's easy when you get to write them out at your leisure I know, but I am confident Obama can do very well on Tuesday.