By Eric Shapiro
Our disclaimer: FlatironHot! News and Bulletin is not a political blog per se, but all of us in the Flatiron District should recognize that the outcome of the Presidential election will have broad implications for the nation as a whole and the community that we love – so here at FlatironHot! News, we have no compunctions about adding in our two cents … and so is born the Flatiron Hot! Pundit … and of course, it is a two-way conversation, so feel free to comment and respond …
Therefore, we would be remiss not to provide some commentary on the latest political happenings leading up to November 6th. We are the first ones to confess political bias; our views are decidedly left of center, in line with those of the majority of folks in the Flatiron and Chelsea neighborhoods we are devoted to covering. However, we are committed to focusing on issues of substance and avoiding personal attacks on the candidates (the mainstream media and the campaigns themselves provide quite enough of that).
The political event on most people’s minds right now is probably last night’s Presidential debate, something that we are eager to discuss. In fact, we have so much to say that we have decided to post our inaugural political piece in two parts. The one you are about to read will focus broadly on the Romney-Ryan budget and the Obama campaign’s mixed record of countering its radical proposal. The second installment will examine how the Romney-Ryan budget will affect our community. So if you like what we have to say in the following post, make sure to stay tuned for part two!
The pundits and the public are in consensus – President Obama turned in a strong debate performance last night, largely keeping Romney on the defensive with a series of well-executed jabs. In other words, he did what he needed to do to restore the faith of his base, not to mention his personal dignity. However, it remains to be seen whether Obama’s debate performance will win over (or win back) undecided voters. Polling to be released in the next couple of days will go some way towards answering this question, but most experts agree that the impact of the debate will be minimal. Despite Obama’s respectable showing, he failed to alter the dynamic of the race by laying out a new narrative. Read on to find out what he should have done differently.
For a decisive win, Obama needed to effectively paint Romney’s policies as radical and contrary to the interests of the 99%. He could have done so by forcefully and repeatedly calling out his opponent for supporting a budget that most respectable economists agree lacks any foundation in basic arithmetic. At its core, Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, endorsed enthusiastically by Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, is based on disingenuous claims and faulty logic. It is also among the only concrete material available for voters to assess what a Romney presidency would look like. Yet, as far as I can recall, the words “Ryan-Romney budget” did not leave the President’s lips once during the entire debate. This was a big missed opportunity.
It is mathematically impossible to balance the budget with the plan that Paul Ryan (the true standard-bearer of the Conservative movement, regardless of his place on the ticket) and Romney have advocated without making massive cuts to social programs that the majority of Americans support. That is, the basic social safety net from which Americans of all political persuasions benefit.
The Romney campaign is well aware of this basic arithmetic reality, which is why they do everything in their power to draw attention away from the Ryan plan and, when that doesn’t work, proceed to furiously backpedal. They are banking on the notion that Middle America, blinded by inherent cultural prejudices against a black, cosmopolitan, Ivy League law professor from Chicago, is unable to discern its own economic self-interest. An example of this kind of voter is the woman who held up a contradictory sign that read: “Keep the government out of my Medicare.”
The Republican economic catechism and orthodoxy is that tried-and-failed trickle-down and supply-side economics, combined with spending cuts that even Newt Gingrich referred to as “radical right-wing social engineering,” will somehow defy the historical precedent of the past several decades and heal our economy. And perhaps their plan will be successful, provided that your definition of healing America entails maintaining the privileged tax status of the 1% while simultaneously cutting funding for basic programs that Americans (not to mention every other western democracy) rightfully expect from their government. The result of these policies is a country that only the followers of Ayn Rand (such as Paul Ryan) could love.
There is something to be said for the theory that politicians should not over-emphasize policy in debates. But when your opponent advocates a policy so blatantly radical and opposed to the basic interests of the majority of Americans across the political spectrum, then you should make it your priority to bring that policy front and center. To his credit, Obama offered many eloquent and pointed critiques of Romney’s policies in last night’s debate. But he did not adequately bring up the factor that Bill Clinton so memorably invoked at the Democratic National Convention: arithmetic! American voters have their prejudices and their ideological differences, but ultimately they will vote their pocketbooks, provided that the candidate defending their economic interests is able to convey that he is, in fact, defending those interests.
Even at this late stage in the campaign, the Obama administration operates on the assumption that Obama needs to vigorously defend his record in order to maintain credibility with the public. But the reality is, in the historical vacuum where most uninformed Americans dwell (and we’re talking about undecided voters, the most un-informed of the un-informed), his record is nothing to run on. Many Americans are still feeling the pains of the recession, which has, unfortunately for the President, happened mostly on his watch. It is often and truly stated that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be elected to office by running on the premise that “things could be worse.”
Liberals can say what they like about Obama’s considerable accomplishments in office: averting a second Great Depression, saving the auto industry, overseeing the operation that killed Bin Laden, and enacting bi-partisan healthcare reform (in substance, the Affordable Care Act is bipartisan, even if Republicans cynically refer to their own ideas as socialism). The fact still remains: the economic recovery is painfully slow and the unemployment rate is soaring. To be sure, this is not necessarily Obama’s fault, but there is no use in trying to convince the American people that the recovery has been successful when so many are struggling to pay the rent.
In light of this inconvenient truth, Obama should focus on explaining to voters what should be blatantly obvious: Mitt Romney is an unacceptable alternative. And that means going beyond negative advertisements attacking Mitt Romney’s wealth and character and explaining to people what his policies would actually mean: drastic cuts to social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, all in order to maintain our bloated military budget and prevent the 1% from contributing their fair share. In a word: plutocracy.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our FlatironHot! debate commentary, which will focus specifically on how the Ryan-Romney budget would affect our community. For now, follow us on twitter @FlatIronHot (and, if you’d like to support a fledgling young writer, follow me as well @EricShapiro3) on Twitter!