I’m going to be live-blogging tonight’s town hall presidential debate in the spirit of John Adams. Just as in the past — with my Madison debate and my Burr debate — I won’t be commenting on idiosyncrasies arising from historical disjointedness; Instead, I’ll be filtering the candidates’ answers through the lens of Adams’ political philosophy.
One thing I can promise: No matter how your preferred candidate performs, you’ll be happy that you followed along with me tonight because there’s no other live-blog out there in which you’re guaranteed to learn something you didn’t know about John Adams … like, for example, that some of his critics unkindly referred to him as His Rotundity.
The live-blog begins below. I anticipate updating this blog post several times over the course of the debate, beginning right at 8pm Central, so remember to check back or just leave this post open in a browser tab and refresh every so often.
8:00pm - The debate begins.
It’s absolutely bizarre to me that this format is essentially structured around undecided voters. The recent "Saturday Night Live" sketch highlighted the problem of the undecided voter pretty nicely, I thought … in no small part because I’m forever amazed by the notion that people could look at these two candidates and have no idea, at this point in this seemingly endless campaign, which one more closely aligns with their own ideas.
But, then, John Adams put the matter more bluntly: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” And then there’s this one: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
8:03pm - Jeremy Epstein is worried about getting a job after graduation. Mitt Romney mentions John and Abigail Adams almost immediately!
Romney promises Jeremy Epstein a job in 2014. He does not explain how he will ensure that this will happen. Perhaps later he will get Epstein’s resume.
Obama suggests betting on American workers and industry, helping people get an education or get retrained, investing in energy efficiency, and rebuilding infrastructure.
Candy Crowley asks for something specific and more immediate, to which Romney replies that the Obama administration hasn’t made progress to put people back to work. He then launches into the 5 point plan; he doesn’t expand. He then launches into an explanation of his desire to see the Detroit auto industry bankrupt and he argues that the Obama administration actually took those corporations through bankruptcy. Obama hits back and says Romney has a 1 point plan, not a 5 point plan. That plan is to help people who make a lot of money make more money.
No specifics are offered to Crowley.
That said, all of this talk about education sits well with John Adams:
“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
8:12pm - Phillip Tricolla wants to know about gas prices.
Romney charges that renewable energy is great, but we need to spend more time drilling for oil on federal land and cutting coal out of the ground. We apparently have abundant energy sources and only Earthy McEarth Obama is standing in our way!
Obama replies: This is all lies. We’re drilling even more than under President Bush. I love to drill and I love coal. Especially “clean coal.” I love it all much more than Governor Romney.
Environmentalists heads are exploding right now.
The candidates then proceed to interrupt and yell at one another and at the moderator.
8:23pm - Mary Eileen Follano wants to know about deductions and credits.
Romney is going to bring rates down for everyone and limit deductions and credits for high income people. Middle income people get a tax break. No taxes on interest, dividends, or capital gains for those people who mostly don’t have much of those things. No increasing of the taxes of the middle class. Under no circumstances.
Obama says he has given tax cuts to small businesses and middle class families. He says that if we’re serious about reducing the debt, then the wealthy will have to do a little more. If you make more than $250,000, Obama believes we can do away with the old Bush tax cuts that the GOP refuses to allow to expire.
Romney says he isn’t looking to cut taxes for wealthy people, despite the fact that Obama alleged that he said precisely that during a Republican primary debate. Obama argues that the cost of lowering rates, along with eliminating the estate tax and changing the corporate tax code, will cost trillions. And then Romney wants to spend more on the military. And then the extension of the Bush tax cuts. And cutting middle class taxes. All without adding to the deficit.
But he can’t explain how he’s going to do this, apart from eliminating funding for PBS and Planned Parenthood.
John Adams was certain that debt was a serious problem … perhaps more serious than Mitt Romney believes: “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a country. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.”
8:37pm - We’re finally talking about women.
Romney had trouble finding any women to staff his cabinet when he was governor. Romney let his chief of staff go home and make dinner for her family. In his new economy, people are going to be anxious to hire women.
Obama brought up his administration’s Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and he brings it up again, noting that Romney was asked his opinion of it and didn’t have an answer. Obama goes on the offensive about health care for women, on which he is good and Romney … well … not so much. Twice he says, “That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need.”
8:45pm - Susan Katz fears a return to the Bush policies, despite her disappointment in the progress made over the past four years.
Romney continues to question the moderator about how much time he has and when he’s allowed to answer or rebut something. He then says that we can now get all the energy we need in this country and this wasn’t true in Bush’s time. With regard to trade, he’ll also crack down on China; Bush didn’t. And he’ll balance the budget, which Bush didn’t.
No matter the question, Romney returns to the economy.
Obama charges that, actually, Romney’s plans for the economy are pretty similar to Bush’s insofar as they include tax cuts for the wealthy.
8:51pm - Michael Jones wants to know what Obama has done to earn his vote again.
Well … cut taxes for middle class families and small busineses, end the war in Iraq, killed Osama bin Laden, changed the health care law to get more people insured, passed tough Wall Street reform, and saved the auto industry from collapse.
Not perfect and still lots to be done. But, yeah, a handful of things.
Romney says that the last four years haven’t been very good. With Obama you’ll get a repeat of the past four years. He said we’d have lower unemployment and he didn’t get there. He said he’d have a plan to reform Social Security and Medicare, but he hasn’t done that. He said he’d cut in half the deficit, but he hasn’t.
This president hasn’t done anything good.
On this John Adams might say to Mitt Romney:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
8:58pm - Lorraine Osorio asks about immigration.
Romney welcomes immigrants. Legal ones. He wants to streamline the system and he thinks we should give green cards to people with skills we need. No amnesty for those who come here illegally. Instead, he’ll put in place an employment verification program that will punish employers of those who are here illegally. He says Obama failed to even promote legislation on this matter.
Obama agrees that we’re a nation of immigrants. So we’re all set.
He says we have streamlined the immigration system to make it simpler and cheaper for people who have been waiting in line to come to the U.S. legally. He says we’ve lowered the flow across the border; he also says that if we’re going after people for being here illegally we should be going after criminals and providing a pathway to citizenship for young people who might be here without proper documentation. During the Republican primary, he notes, Romney said he would veto the Dream Act. He also said people should “self-deport” because we’ve made life so miserable for them here. And he criticizes Romney for supporting legislation like that in Arizona, which seemingly allows people to be targeted based on the way they look.
Romney says he didn’t say the Arizona law was a model for the nation, just the e-Verify part. Romney defends self-deportation; he says people should be left to make their own choice to go to a place with better opportunities (the subtext of which is that they won’t have any opportunities here).
Oops, Obama notes that Romney’s top advisor on immigration designed the Arizona immigration policy.
A little John Adams to help us out on this one: “Ideology is the science of idiots.”
9:08pm - Kerry Ladka asks about the attacks in Libya last month.
Obama ultimately says that the buck stops with him, that he’s the one who sends ambassadors overseas and he’s the one who waited for their coffins to come home.
Romney is troubled that the president flew out West for political events the day after the attacks. He then somehow folds in Israel, Iran, and Syria … all of which are apparently problematic because of Obama’s Middle East apology tour.
Candy Crowley asks about Clinton accepting responsibility. He replies, “She works for me. I’m the president and I’m always responsible. That’s why no one is more interested in finding out what happened than I am.”
The two candidates then argued for two minutes about who said what in the Rose Garden.
9:18pm - Assault weapons.
Romney isn’t in favor of any additional legislation that limit the ownership of weapons. More important are two parent families. Also, Fast and Furious.
Candy Crowley reminds Romney that he hasn’t answered the question at all, that the question was about weapons that once were banned but that aren’t banned any longer. Obama suggests that Romney’s position on these weapons has changed largely because he sought the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
… to which Adams might note:
“If the way to do good to my country were to render myself popular, I could easily do it. But extravagant popularity is not the road to public advantage.”
9:26pm - Carol Goldberg asks about outsourcing.
Romney says we have to make it more attractive to do business in America. He’ll also show China a thing or two. Everything about China is terrible and virtually everything terrible that has happened is because of China. Also he’ll make our country more like Canada … except for all the socialism.
9:34pm - Barry Green wants to know about the biggest misperception the public has of each candidate.
Romney: “I care about 100% of the American people.” The Obama campaign has made people think this isn’t true. [Also the video of me saying that this isn’t true probably didn’t help.]
Obama: “I actually like the free market system and I don’t think that government should fix everything.” But, also, Romney did say that thing about the 47%.
One final word from President Adams: “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.”