Yes, President Barack Obama was off his game in Wednesday evening's debate appearing, at various times, tired, bored and listless. And whoever advised Obama not to pound Mitt Romney with his 47 percent speech every time the Republican nominee said “middle class” should be fired.
I was aghast that there was not a single mention of the Republican war on women, abortion and contraception.
Nor was there a question on voter suppression or DOMA. All of these easily fit into two of the six debate topics Lehrer selected – the role of government and governing.
But that doesn't mean there was a lack of substance in the debate. In one case, Romney repeated that he would repeal Obamacare while keeping some of the good parts and then lied when he said his plan would protect those with pre-existing conditions from losing coverage.
After the debate one of Romney's advisers was forced to admit that people with pre-existing medical conditions would likely be unable to purchase insurance. But how many people who watched the debate ever heard that?
There are many other instances of Romney's prevarication (see 27 Myths in 38 Minutes ) but we don't need to go into the long list here. Reverend Al Sharpton captured the truth right after the debate on MSNBC:
“Mitt Romney gave a good testimony,” said the Rev, “but will be indicted for perjury because he’s lying.”
Of high concern to this blog are Social Security and Medicare. On the latter, Romney was, as he always is, misleading, deceptive and – well, false.
He repeatedly said Obama had slashed $716 billion from Medicare which is not true and he tried to convince viewers that his proposed voucher system would not leave elders unable to afford coverage.
The president's rebuttal was tepid and I do not think anyone not already familiar with the candidates' positions gained any clarity.
Keep this in mind: if Mitt Romney is elected president, he will do everything in his power to end Medicare.
Do. Not. Forget. That.
One quite simple statement of Romney's in relation to Medicare leapt out at me:
“My experience is the private sector typically is able to provide a better product at a lower cost.”
I have never believed that Romney is as smart as everyone insists. He regularly says dumb things in his stump speeches and on this he is completely – willfully? - wrong.
There is no doubt that the private sector provides better potato chips and blue jeans at lower cost than the government could, but healthcare is not nor can it be treated as a typical consumer product. Why doesn't Romney know this?
Whatever the Heritage Foundation says, there are mountains of data showing that government administration costs of Medicare/Medicaid are magnitudes lower than private costs. Paul Krugman has a good explanation of this.
Social Security came up early in the debate and as has happened regularly in the campaign, the president was a disappointment on the subject:
”Social Security is structurally sound,” he said. “It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is - the basic structure is sound.
“...when it comes to Social Security, as I said, you don’t need a major structural change in order to make sure that Social Security is there for the future.”
The president is right about the second half of that statement, but the first leaves a lot of questions about how he would accomplish the tweaks. The Reagan/O'Neill compromise of 1983 increased the age of full eligibility from 65 to 67 by 2027, increased the payroll deduction and make some other small changes.
What the president did not say on Wednesday evening and has not said elsewhere is what kind of tweaks he is thinking of. Are they the disaster for elders contained in Simpson-Bowles or something else?
On one small point, Obama revealed that he may be quite teachable. Look at this answer in response to moderator Jim Lehrer's reference to Social Security as an entitlement:
”And that’s the perspective I bring when I think about what’s called entitlements,” said the president. “You know, the name itself implies some sense of dependency on the part of these folks. These are folks who’ve worked hard, like my grandmother. And there are millions of people out there who are counting on this...”
Okay, as during the rest of evening, Obama wasn't all that articulate about it, but you can tell what he meant. What is encouraging is that after four years of throwing around the term “entitlement,” someone has pointed out how demeaning that is to elders who have paid into the program all their working lives and he obviously agrees.
I'm counting on that teachability – if he is re-elected – in listening to others about choosing the best, most fair Social Security tweaks.
For his part, Romney can't wait to get his – um, mitts – on the money in both programs. Listen:
”Well, Jim, our seniors depend on these programs. And I know any time we talk about entitlements, people become concerned that something’s going to happen that’s going to change their life for the worst, and the answer is, neither the president nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you’re 60 or around 60 or older, you don’t need to listen any further.
“But for younger people, we need to talk about what changes are going to be occurring...I’ve got proposals to make sure Medicare and Social Security are there for them without any question.”
How distasteful is this statement? Let me count the ways:
Romney uses the condescending “our seniors” every time these issues come up as though we are his little pets he'll look out for and he knows best. Infuriating.
And there he goes again about current retirees won't face any changes to Social Security and Medicare as if we don't care about the nation's children, grandchildren and generations beyond. Do you think he's projecting – that he lives by his 47 percent credo, “I've got mine and screw you,” so he believes everyone does?
Romney has said he supports "voluntary" private Social Security accounts. To anyone who believes that's an intelligent idea, all I have to say is: 2008.
There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today.