I’m going to be live-blogging tonight’s presidential debate in the spirit of James Madison. And I don’t mean that I’d be commenting on slavery or on the lack of appropriate wigs or breeches; I mean, I’ll be filtering the candidates’ answers through the lens of Madisonian political philosophy.
The live-blog begins below; I anticipate updating several times over the course of the debate so check back or leave this post open in a browser tab and refresh every so often.
8:00pm - The debate begins.
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
8:04pm - “How will you create new jobs?”
Obama notes that we’re saving money by having fewer troops fighting in foreign wars. Romney, oddly, blasts Obama for a trick-down theory of government. He then says he has a five-point plan. The fifth point is to make life easier for small businesses in the U.S., which he says he’ll do but Obama hasn’t done and won’t do.
Obama thinks we need to improve our education system. He also wants to change the tax code, closing loopholes for companies that outsource. Boost energy production. Manage the deficit. But here Obama notes that the Romney plan won’t allow us to pay for tax cuts and more military spending while also balancing the budget.
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
8:14pm - Taxes
Romney says that everything Obama says about his tax plan is inaccurate. He says he won’t reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans and will lower taxes on middle-income families. Obama claims that Romney has been running on one plan and now, right before the election, he is changing his mind. The fact checkers are going to have a field day with this section of the debate, since numbers and rates are being tossed around willy-nilly.
Obama argues that we should go back to the tax rates we had when Bill Clinton was president. And he and Romney are having a heated back-and-forth about who/what qualifies as a small business, and thus whose rates should be higher or lower.
Obama continues to hammer Romney on the impossibility of both balancing the budget while also spending in the ways that Romney wants to spend; Romney hits back by pointing to the state of the economy over the past four years. Romney defends cutting taxes because it will encourage job creation; he will balance this, apparently, by no longer funding things like PBS despite his love of both Big Bird and the debate’s moderator.
The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice.
8:40pm - Entitlements
Romney is throwing around a lot of numbers in order to argue that Obama is intent on cutting Medicare … but only after he told anyone over the age of sixty-five to stop listening since no one was going to change Social Security or Medicare.
Obama hits back by noting that Romney ultimately wants to change Medicare into a voucher program so people who are in their fifties might want to listen. Romney reiterates that he doesn’t want to do anything that will change Medicare for those
This is very confusing because Romney is talking about saving Medicare and keeping it around in the long term, while also talking about a voucher system that will bring in lower costs and better offerings than Medicare. Obama notes that the AARP supports his plan on Medicare and not Romney’s. The average American will almost certainly be confused about whether the candidates will strengthen or destroy Medicare (in either the short or the long term).
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.
8:56pm - Obamacare
Romney wants to repeal Obamacare … because he met some people who can’t afford insurance. The cost of health care is prohibitive and, he says, Obamacare is more expensive than traditional insurance. Romney thinks plans like this should be crafted at the state level rather than at the federal level. Romney notes that Romneycare didn’t cut Medicare (which, he also helpfully notes, Massachusetts didn’t have).
Madison seems to agree with Romney:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce…. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.
Except maybe not:
The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.
So that’s no Obamacare and no Romneycare … but it’s probably also important to note that health care was a pretty different animal in the late 1700s.
Madison recommended, of course, that “the best medicine in the world a long journey at a mild season through a pleasant country in easy stages.”
9:07pm - In the midst of the health care discussion, Romney argues that the market does better at everything than the government does at anything. Remember that he wants to be the president of the government.
And the next topic, in fact, is about the role of government.
9:14pm - Obama thinks the government’s role is to keep people safe and to help them succeed. Romney thinks the role of government is to have a military second to none.
The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.
9:20pm - The candidates have moved on to education. Romney insists that he loves education; Obama does the same. Romney hits Obama on green energy for the second or third time, which he claims to love but also which he says he wouldn’t have invested in as Obama did. Instead, he suggets that he might have hired millions of teachers. He also wants to grade schools so they will be more effective and so parents can take their kids to the better ones.
9:25pm - Partisanship
Romney vows to sit down on the day after his election with Democrat and Republican leaders. And this will solve the partisan crisis we’re in. Obama notes that Romney is going to have a busy first day since he also promised to repeal Obamacare that day (which won’t be very popular with Democrats). He goes on to note that he’s always open to hear ideas from anyone and he argues that he actually has plans for working together — rather than the platitude of sitting down together — and he has had successes, even in the face of Republican intransigence.
9:28pm - Closing Statements
James Madison sums it up nicely:
All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.
The (non-Madisonian) post-debate wrap-up is here.