Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Second Presidential Debate and What Obama Needed and Needs To Do

I thought the President won the second presidential debate on October 16, 2012.  But it certainly was no knock-out punch.  Romney did well, particularly in listing some of Obama’s promises at the outset of his presidency on how he would fix the economy and the deficit.  In my opinion, the President needed, and needs, to address two issues above all else: (1) his failure to realize a number of promises and predictions he made early in his presidency about economic growth and the deficit; and, (2) his plan for a second term.

I wish President Obama had responded directly to Romney’s allegations about the economy and Obama’s unrealized promises.  Knowing there are risks with whatever he says, in my view, Obama should have been prepared to admit that the economic crisis he inherited turned out to be far deeper and more pervasive than he and many economists initially thought it would be.  Obama’s initial optimism was misplaced and he should have conceded that, particularly because it wasn’t his fault.  The statistics show that the jobs being lost each month during the end of Bush’s term continued into Obama’s term, not because Obama had no answers but because the American economy doesn’t turn around on a dime.  He should also have noted that he sought bipartisanship to address the economic calamity but was met with a Republican Party already dedicated to defeating him for a second term and unwilling to compromise on almost anything.  Nonetheless, the President did institute a stimulus bill that helped create and save many jobs and under which Paul Ryan and many Republican Governors sought money to stimulate the economy of their locales and states.

As well, in my view, the President should have been willing to make broader comparisons between the Great Recession and the Great Depression, pointing out how long it took President Roosevelt and the nation to pull itself out of that catastrophe.  Obama should have shown that the recession Reagan encountered was small potatoes in terms of job losses, foreclosures, bank failures, the collapse of credit markets and the like compared to the Great Recession, and he should have noted that President Reagan raised taxes during his tenure in office, something Republicans including Romney and Ryan refuse to do.

The President also should have outlined in a clearer way his plan and vision for a second term.  He has articulated a number of his objectives but hasn't packaged them in a way that will lead pundits to get off his back and recognize that he has offered a vision of the future.  To be sure, when you are the incumbent you are not in the same position as your opponent.  You are not starting from scratch and you must embrace your own record but you must explain it as well.  The President has done much in his first term and a second term will build on his successes and seek to remedy those things that still need fixing.

The President has outlined his plans to continue to encourage an increase in manufacturing jobs in the United States, to change the tax code to encourage that and to alter tax provisions that currently encourage corporations to ship jobs overseas.  He has discussed an immigration policy that he quite rightly had to institute in part through executive order, granting a special temporary status to many young people who came to this country illegally when they were infants. He has discussed continuing to move the country toward energy independence through alternative energy sources and America's own energy in oil and natural gas as well as through clean coal.   And the President has talked about moving forward with education and re-education.  Obama pushed for the change in student loan funding that eliminated banks from the process that made incredible profits on the backs of students.  As well, his second term would also see the implementation of ObamaCare and he has begun, as he should have a long time ago, to underscore the benefits of his healthcare law.

The economy is continuing to improve, private sector jobs are returning and growing in number, consumer debt is down, unemployment is down, foreclosures are in decline.  The economy is beginning to move again.  He should explain this and how he will continue to work to encourage economic growth.

Unfortunately, the President has remained far too silent about the extent to which the Republican Party, particularly through its control of the House of Representatives, has stood as an obstacle to so much of his program.  Obama’s jobs bill stalled in Congress because of Republican opposition.  The Republicans refused to move forward on wide sweeping immigration reform.  Even Republicans like McCain stepped back from previous positions, making comprehensive reform not possible.  While the Democrats controlled both houses before the 2010 elections, the Republicans in the Senate used the filibuster, requiring a super-majority to pass anything, with abandon, thwarting the President and slowing economic growth.  Many economists believe that the stimulus bill was too timid and that further pump priming by the Federal Government was needed to jump start the economy mired in the Great Recession.  But Republicans opposed any of this, fought against raising the National Debt despite that previous Republican presidents had done so countless times, and undermined America's credit standard and economic recovery.

On the energy front, there is no reason that the President has remained silent on the BP oil disaster in the Gulf in explaining that he has been moving cautiously forward in licensing the use of public lands and other oil exploration.  That spill was a catastrophe of the first magnitude, extraordinarily costly, not merely in dollar terms but in human terms, to the Gulf and the entire nation.  The President should criticize the “drill baby drill” approach that is reflected in Romney's approach, including its new application to coal mining.  Obama needs to provide a balanced approach but not retreat from addressing legitimate environmental concerns.

These are matters the President should have addressed but there is still time.

The last presidential debate is on foreign policy.  Having sustained a bloody nose during the second debate regarding Obama’s reference to “acts of terror” immediately following the Benghazi attack, Romney will likely come charging back on Libya.  The President should be well-prepared to respond.  The Administration should have handled that incident better but it pales by comparison to Obama’s successes in foreign policy and failures by Republican predecessors.  As well, recently The New York Times has been reporting that there was a demonstration against the American made video in Benghazi and that the organized terrorist attack may have overlapped with that demonstration.  If that is true, President Obama needs to so indicate.  But let’s recall previous American tragedies, including the loss of over 250 Marines in Lebanon during President Reagan’s watch, after which he essentially cut and ran, withdrawing American troops rather than pressing forward.  As well, we all recall that the Bush Administration was given warnings of some treacherous al-Qaida plans prior to 9/11 that were not acted on.  Things happen around the world.  It’s important that the President put Benghazi into perspective.

Obama has earned a second term and I support him.  Mr. President, congratulations on your energetic performance at the second debate.  But it’s important that you continue to persevere and I strongly recommend you implement at least a few of the points I’ve outlined above.