Political Animal


October 04, 2012 12:32 PM “Domestic Policy”

By Ed Kilgore

At least one more thought about last night’s debate, if you don’t mind: aside from “the 47%” and Bain Capital, there were a lot of topics most of us expected to hear but didn’t, on a whole host of issues of importance particularly to Democrats, but also to swing voters, where Romney’s positioning is unpopular or at least vulnerable. Matt Yglesias suggests this was baked into the debate cake:

Romney was helped in [his repositioning] by the fact that there was a three-way conspiracy to define “domestic issues” as very narrowly equivalent to tax and budget issues. There was no real talk of the environment, of LGBT equality, of labor unions, of monetary policy, of the regulatory state outside of Dodd-Frank, of immigration, of family life or women’s role in the workforce or any of a host of other issues where it’s difficult to paper over ideological voids. But on the issues they did talk about, Romney succeeded in portraying himself as someone who’s considerably less conservative than John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, or the Mitt Romney who we’ve seen a lot of over the past 18 months.

We are led to believe the Obama campaign had no influence over the structure of the debate, and thus over Lehrer’s narrow framing (which had me describing the debate early on a sounding like an internal discussion at the Simpson-Bowles Commission). But everyone familiar with debating knows there are a variety of techniques for answering a question but then quickly pivoting to the subject you actually want to talk about. And besides, it’s not like there were not plenty of possible connections between most of the undiscussed subjects and the broad topics of the economy, health care, and “role of government.” The last actually could include just about anything.

Of course, to some extent this scenario accurately reflected how Beltway folk have tended to think of “domestic policy” and/or “dealing with the economy” in recent years: it’s all about how you rejigger the tax code to raise revenues without really addressing distribution of the tax burden, and how you address “entitlement reform.” It would have been refreshing, though, to hear Obama go beyond ritualistic pledges of loyalty to the middle class and address more of the “domestic issues” they care about at least as much as the deficit or tax policy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Sue on October 04, 2012 12:50 PM:

    My guess/hope is that the domestic non-budget/non-economy issues will come up in the town hall style debate on the 16th.

  • DCSusie on October 04, 2012 12:51 PM:

    When they announced that two white men in their late 70's were going to run the debates, I knew Obama was screwed. (Really doesn't matter much what Crowley does in the town hall format debate.) Only remaining question is if Schieffer will suck as much as Leher did. However, nothing erases the fact that it was Obama's job to make his case, and he dropped the ball. I know he is devoted to his 'come let us reason together' meme, but he owed his supporters a lot more than he gave last night. I just hope the demographics are enough to pull him over the finish line.

  • Hue and Cry on October 04, 2012 12:54 PM:

    The debate structure was awful. Romney in reality got away with way too much because, as Ed aptly calls it, Lehrer's narrow framing.

    You know, I am still bothered by Romney specifically getting away with saying how he worked with democrats so well in Massachusetts, because I distinctly recall this passage in a book by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman--


    "....as one fellow Republican put it, “He has that invisible wall between ‘me’ and ‘you.’” Referring to the time later when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a Democratic lawmaker recalls, “You remember Richard Nixon and the imperial presidency?

    "Well, this was the imperial governor.” There were the ropes that often curtailed access to Romney and his chambers. The elevator settings restricted access to his office.
    The tape on the floor told people exactly where to stand during events.
    This was the controlled environment that Romney created. His orbit was his own.
    “We always would talk about how, among the legislators, he had no idea what our names were—none,” the lawmaker said, “because he was so far removed from the day-to-day operations of state ..."

  • T2 on October 04, 2012 1:00 PM:

    @ Hue and Cry - my impression of Romney last night was that of a man of Privilege,
    coming down from the throne room to address and impress the minions. The way he dismissed poor Jim Lehrer was like he was shooing a fly away lest he disturb the master's dinner party. And for the most part he dismissed Obama as well, repeatedly talking over him. Maybe lots of people were impressed with Romney last night, but I saw a guy I don't want anything to do with. He was a rich asshat.

  • jjm on October 04, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Guys, look at what's happening all over the web. Obama has managed to inspire thousands and thousands of researchers to home in on Mitt's lie in the debate. Even Mitt: http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/10/04/960881/romney-admits-pushing-misinformation-in-debate/

    Interesting how most people did not hear him answer Mitt's attacks, some claim that he never responded to Mitt's $716 billion Medicare lie. I heard him. He did. But by now the entire country knows that Mitt lied about it, and I don't care if you think 'low information voters' will believe what any snake oil salesman tells him. But really? this they've heard about if Medicare means anything to them or their children, and they reject the Romney position, the Ryan position.

    Lying and selling are Mitt's ethos. The public will know a salesman when they see one. What they won't see in Mitt is a president who really cares about them, and does not just give lip service to it.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 04, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Just accept it. Obama sucked big donkey genitals last night. Just pathetic.

  • mb on October 04, 2012 1:25 PM:

    The Magic Asterisk of Romney's tax plan made an appearance last night and, as far as I can tell, nobody, certainly not the President, took notice or, god forbid, advantage of it.

    In explaining how his tax plan did too add up, dagnabit, he said the cuts in rates would be matched by cuts in deductions PLUS GROWTH. In other words, we are going to hitch a ride on the Laffer Curve. Just like the good ol' days.

    It was, imho, a long, slow pitch over the plate but the batter was snoozing -- or something.

    That was one agonizing debate. Good thing it was just the first one.

  • Hue and Cry on October 04, 2012 1:28 PM:

    @T2 and @jjm----->
    And this is worth sharing too--on how much Mitt STILL is willing to lie about in front of millions:


  • c u n d gulag on October 04, 2012 1:29 PM:

    Yes, Obama sucked last night.

    However, after all of the birther bullsh*t, the "You Lie" cries, they dog-whistling, we need to realize that Obama was stuck between a racist rock and a hard place.

    How does a black man, even a President, stand there on national TV, in front of tens of millions of people, and call an older rich white man an out-and-out brazen lier, and not look angry or uppity.

    We as a nation have not moved as far forward as many of us would like.

    And last night showed it.

    Bill Clinton would have called Mitt a lier to his face, and revelled in giving him the 'death of a thousand verbal cuts and jabs.'

  • stormskies on October 04, 2012 1:36 PM:

    what jjm said plus the fact of who 'won' or 'loss' remains this fact: the policies of Obama versus the policies of pathological liar Romney. Those policies have not been changed one bit by the debate other than, as ever, Romney lying 27 more times.

    The two visions of American that the policies of each mean will be the determinant of who the majority of Americans vote for. I would doubt that the majority wants what the buffoon called Romney is peddling.

  • gregor on October 04, 2012 1:43 PM:

    When I was in the sixth grade trying to understand how to write essays, my older brother told me to just memorize an essay on one topic, and when asked to write on something else, segue into what you know. Like for example, I still remember, memorize an essay about rain, and when asked to write about your visit to the zoo, start with 'I went to zoo yesterday, and it started to rain'.

    Obama's coach must have been really bad.

  • TCinLA on October 04, 2012 1:44 PM:

    Yet another demonstration of Obama's failure. None of this would have been hard - as a friend of mine who suffers terrible stage fright said, he could have gotten up and done a better job.

  • mb on October 04, 2012 1:45 PM:

    I don't really think O was constrained by fears of appearing angry -- I think Romney confused his strategy by blatant lies and dissembling, caught him flat-footed on stuff like "green" investment (seems like there's a pretty obvious answer to me, but Romney's attack was devastating,) and trapped him between the needs of the country and the recalcitrance of the Senate Republicans.

    The most obvious example of the last happened when Romney decried the fact that Dodd/Frank regs were overdue delaying loan decisions when the reason they are overdue is that the Senate Republicans blocked confirmation of the Director which was required before regs could be disseminated. More of that Public Sector Vandalism that Ed blogged about the other day. This has been the GOP M.O. consistently, but how do you explain that in a debate without sounding whiny? I'd suggest that you can't.

    The Republicans set him up and Mitt's trying to knock him down. If he is worried about looking angry, he better get over that 'cause they're making him look like a fool.

  • caitlinfinnegan on October 04, 2012 4:06 PM:


    It sounds like you can't stand President Obama (see: "failure" "pathetic") So why are you still thinking of voting for him?

  • castanea on October 04, 2012 8:55 PM:


    What is revealing is that so many on the left are willing to bring out the invectives for the President on what they perceive to be a sub-optimal performance at the debate.

    I'd wager that even if Obama had completely b*tchslapped Romney, the whiny left would complain because he had not done it exactly as they think he should have.

    And as for the fact that Obama didn't mention Bain or the 47 percent directly, I'd bet he quite rightly figured that Romney would have his "zingers" on those topics well-practiced.

    To have mentioned either of those things in the debate by name would have given Romney the opening to provide his "clarification" in front of a national audience.

    If Romney "clarified" those comments, they'd be taken off the table as part of the larger national debate, and they'd lose their power in commercials in swing states.

    Many whiny leftists apparently aren't bright enough to understand that strategy, however.

    Two of the things that are sinking my country are the obstinance of the right and the practice of some on the left of breaking ranks just to prove their ideological purity. I regard both with equal, and deserved, contempt.