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What Americans saw Wednesday night in Denver was not just a debate between two presidential candidates, but the contrast they’ve been wanting to see since 2008. It happened not because of a good night for one or a bad night for the other, but as a direct result of who the candidates are as people.
Ever since John McCain could not effectively answer whether health care was a right or a privilege -- leaving to stand on its own candidate Barack Obama’s proclamation that it was a right -- Obama has been held in high esteem as a debater.
But it has always been clear that only through lack of an effective mainstream challenge have Obama’s radical ideas been able to stand. Wednesday night Mitt Romney provided a cogent, clear, centrist evisceration of the President’s ideas, policies, and record.
Democrats tried to spin the debate as Romney being somehow overly aggressive, battling with the moderator. Yet Barack Obama got 4 more minutes to speak -- often rambling to fill time rather than presenting a clear point -- than did Romney. The debate moderator appeared to be trying to shield Obama from tough questions and policy terrain that the President was not prepared to negotiate.
In comic fashion, the DNC released a video trying to portray Romney as some kind of bully, though it was clear to those who watched the debate that he was outnumbered two to one on stage:
In the run-up to the debate, as in the preceding three years, Barack Obama has been a lazy, passive figure in place of the leader that the country needed. When he did lead, it was always in the direction of expanding government and dividing the electorate. That has only become more evident during the campaign. Rather than meet the challenges facing the country, he golfed. Rather than meet with foreign leaders, he met with The View.
It has become common knowledge that Obama prefers his own counsel to that of his counselors. He failed to meet with his “Jobs Council” for months at a time, and even failed to attend national security briefings. In the immediate run-up to the debates, when he should have been preparing, he went to see Hoover Dam.
Perhaps he saw there the monument to true shovel-ready jobs, as he relaxed in avoidance of his duties, and wondered what he had to show for $5 trillion in new debt. Not that the economy would be any different if he had spent the money differently.
By contrast, Romney let it be known in the weeks ahead of the first debate that he was taking time to prepare. At the debate, he was ready for every spurious talking point and straw man the President could muster.
Romney almost made a serious mistake at one point, declaring that neither he nor the President want to cut Medicare for current seniors. He then caught himself, saying:
Oh, I just thought about one, and that is in fact I was wrong when I said the president isn't proposing any changes for current retirees. In fact, he is on Medicare. On Social Security, he's not.
But on Medicare, for current retirees he's cutting $716 billion from the program. Now, he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers, actually just going to them and saying we're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board, everybody's going to get a lower rate. That's not just going after places where there's abuse, that's saying we're cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take anymore Medicare patients under that scenario.
We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won't take more Medicare patients. This — we have 4 million people on Medicare Advantage that will lose Medicare Advantage because of those $716 billion in cuts. I can't understand how you can cut Medicare $716 billion for current recipients of Medicare.
Obama also repeated two of his cherished falsehoods, that oil companies get some huge “$4 billion” subsidy, and that companies get tax breaks for “sending jobs overseas.” Romney did a credible job exposing the order of magnitude difference between the tax treatment given small oil companies that allows them to deduct the cost of failed oil exploration and the $90 billion Obama gave to the green energy experiments of his campaign contributors. And memorably, in regard to tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, he told Obama “Listen, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant. The idea that you get a break for taking jobs overseas is simply not the case.”
Companies with overseas operations deduct their business costs, the same as they do within the United States. Not allowing such deductions would mean taxing companies on their gross income, not their net income, when they expand overseas.
This debate is exactly how the other two debates will go. Romney’s personality requires him to defeat his opponents as thoroughly, but graciously, as possible. Obama’s requires him to believe he cannot lose. The habits of laziness and procrastination will not allow him to recover in days the ground he has lost to years of idle leisure and lack of any serious intellectual challenge.