A presidential debate has the potential to bring more clarity to voters about the candidates' stances, but last week’s content was far from achieving that ideal. While it is true that a cumbersome format and problematic moderation contributed to the substandard quality of the debate, the most unproductive aspect, it seems, was Mitt Romney’s choice to forego his own policy plan in front of a a national audience, and to fabricate what amounts to an alternative reality of policy plans, rather than engage in a direct dialogue with President Obama.
While it is true that Obama’s came across as somewhat listless and off-kilter last Wednesday, he at least attempted to engage Romney in a substantive discussion of their major differences in economic policy. Early on in the debate, Obama directly challenged Romney regarding his plans to cut taxes for the wealthy, to which Romney responded by saying that he is “not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.” This is, at the very least, an obfuscation of the facts, as a quick look at Romney’s policy plans reveals. In addition to ending the estate tax and the gift tax, Romney plans to drop the top tax rate for those with the highest incomes from 35 percent to 28 percent.
While discussing healthcare policy, Romney responded to Obama’s allegations about his plan not covering pre-existing conditions with another false claim. He said, “And with regards to health care, you had remarkable details with regards to my pre-existing condition plan. You obviously studied up on—on my plan. In fact, I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions. That’s part of my health care plan.” That is not part of Romney’s health care plan.
The very medium of debate is debased when one candidate chooses to make up policy on the spot. If citizens walk away with anything useful from last week’s debate, it should be a reinforced skepticism of Mitt Romney’s suitability for the job of being President. As President Obama pointed out, “At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they’re too good?” The American people have an answer to this question. Last week’s debate demonstrated to us all that Mitt Romney’s plans are weak, insubstantial, and prone to constant transformation, just like the candidate who has proposed them.