The First Debate: A “Sham-Dunk”

Originally published at

Republican nominee Mitt Romney earned kudos for repeating the terms “jobs,” “Tenth Amendment” (state prerogatives) and “trickle-down government” multiple times in his first round against President Barack Obama on Wednesday, October 3. He smiled in the right places and kept to his themes — to the evident annoyance of his teleprompter-less challenger. Mr. Obama’s infamous smirk got him in trouble this time, even with his devoted, liberal party hacks. Both candidates missed opportunities to contest each other’s remarks — but each knew instinctively, even if their acolytes didn’t — that a challenge can blow up in one’s face unless time is taken to substantiate any counter-claims.

That said: Was the first debate a “slam-dunk” for Mr. Romney? Are the Democrats and President Obama truly “reeling” from a high-stakes defeat, as suggested by the Washington Times, among others?

More to the point, was this a debate at all? Could the viewing audience have discerned, much less articulated, after the fact, any details whatsoever between the two candidates’ views concerning government’s role in individual health care; which big-ticket cuts were necessary to bring down spending (PBS is not the kind of big-ticket item that turns budgets around); or what “investments” should be made in education, other than to rename core standards (yet again!) and to throw more money at the Department of Education?

Both President Obama and Mr. Romney—and even the renowned moderator, Jim Lehrer—began obfuscating the moment they started using the terms "deficit" and "debt" interchangeably. If you recorded the debate, watch how Mr. Lehrer stumbled over the two terms in his opening question regarding the economy and budget. From that time on, no one without a degree in economics could have determined either candidate’s strategy for dodging the encroaching “financial cliff.”

Nobody broached the lack of a federal budget, which is required by law, now ongoing nearly four years straight. Based on the debate alone, one might have imagined that the budget submitted by Mr. Obama for FY 2013 was passed by Congress, when, in fact, it was rejected even by his own Party.

As for the housing debacle, no listener not already familiar with the 2,500-page Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s and the Financial Services Oversight Council would have had any context for comprehending the administration’s complicity in the economic downturn, or housing’s contribution to the nation’s larger financial mess. 

Those not intimately involved with the health insurance industry most likely scratched their head over the candidates’ takes on health care. Yes, viewers may have “gotten” the fact that former Governor Romney’s legislation was a Massachusetts initiative, whereas ObamaCare was a national mandate.  But State government or Federal government—the key word is still “government.”

Both candidates also agreed upon the necessity of continued government “investment” in the education system — the same one that has seen an annual downward skid of SAT scores and international measures of basic subjects even before the Department of Education became a cabinet-level agency in 1976. With every administration, Republican and Democrat, has come the obligatory promise of “new standards” and more “testing” — always under a different moniker. In all, Americans have endured seven iterations of what are, essentially, the same failed programs, some within a single administration.

Education is the issue that conservatives love to hate, but it is the game-changer that will determine, ultimately, on which side America falls in 2013 and beyond — Nanny State socialism or representative democracy. For that reason, education — including university departments of teacher preparation — cry out for a ban on government interference at all levels. The ever-expandable Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 essentially has served to fund left-wing curricula and teaching methodologies.  The tentacles of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), together with those of the monstrous teachers union, the National Education Association, are now so entrenched and intertwined that only privatization can circumvent the harm “progressive” schooling has wrought.

Of course, the presidential debate avoided the issue of why American schools keep doing a poor job, and the counterproductive efforts of government “fixes.” As with other topics, the candidates “talked past each other” and equivocated.

With only weeks left before the 2012 election, conservatives are fixated on turning things around in November.  But between a unionized government bureaucracy and a majority-left tilt among hundreds of institutes, associations, media and even foreign interests — all driving U.S. policy-making — the outlook for America isn’t good. Voters deserve more than warmed-over slogans about jobs, spending, deficit-reduction and education.

Whether the topic falls under fiscal, social or security issues, today’s Americans do not get “debates.” Those who actually were taught the techniques of debate back in the high school classrooms of the 1940s and 50s say these modern versions bear no resemblance to what they learned. The structure went something like this: “RESOLVED: THE NATIONAL DEBT MUST BE RETIRED TO ENSURE THE ECONOMIC FUTURE OF OUR COUNTRY.” Each team then had to take a pro or con position, with timed rebuttals and sources cited. Lack of sources downgraded the presentation.

Adapting this model to the presidential debate, the above Resolution would be worded thusly:  How would you (President Obama), as the Democratic candidate in the 2012 race, and you (Mr. Romney), as the Republican nominee, deal with the national debt to safeguard the future of our nation?

The candidates would argue the relative merits of two distinct positions and make use of source material (such as statistics) to clarify their points.  Pundits would later analyze their respective positions and credible use of data to determine who won the match.

The presidential debate of October 3 bore no relation to this structure. Moderator Jim Lehrer lost control, and the candidates used their time to pontificate and sloganize, with only the occasional reference to any valid basis, so that it was forgotten by viewers and pundits alike.

No wonder most Americans are conditioned to place affability over credibility! 

In short, the debate wasn’t worthy of a campaign for Student Council president, let alone for President of the United States. It didn’t come close to the tone established by the oft-cited Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 — an era when fewer people completed a 12th grade education, but could still spot specious reasoning and argle-bargle when they heard it.