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Posted at 12:56 PM ET, 10/04/2012

In first presidential debate, innovation has small role

The combing for winners and losers is underway in the wake of the first presidential debate. But I did a little combing of my own — for “innovation.”

The 90-minute exchange went through a flurry of details (which you can drill into with The Washington Post FactChecker, Glenn Kessler), but during the entire time the two candidates were called on to speak about their domestic policy plans, the word “innovation” only came up twice — both times mentioned by Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

The first reference was in regards to what Romney would do if he replaced the president’s health-care law, otherwise known as “Obamacare”:

In my opinion, the government is not effective in — in bringing down the cost of almost anything. As a matter of fact, free people and free enterprises trying to find ways to do things better are able to be more effective in bringing down the cost than the government will ever be.
Your example of the Cleveland Clinic is my case in point, along with several others I could describe.
This is the private market. These are small — these are enterprises competing with each other, learning how to do better and better jobs. I used to consult to businesses — excuse me, to hospitals and to health-care providers. I was astonished at the creativity and innovation that exists in the American people.
In order to bring the cost of health care down, we don’t need to have a board of 15 people telling us what kinds of treatments we should have. We instead need to put insurance plans, providers, hospitals, doctors on target such that they have an incentive, as you say, performance pay, for doing an excellent job, for keeping costs down, and that’s happening. Innermountain Healthcare does it superbly well, Mayo Clinic is doing it superbly well, Cleveland Clinic, others.

The second reference came as Romney outlined what he believed to be the role of government:

We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same God and we care for those that have difficulties, those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that are disabled. We care for them. And we — we look for discovery and innovation, all these things desired out of the American heart to provide the pursuit of happiness for our citizens.
But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals. And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view, a — a trickle-down government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working.

In both instances, the word is used for rhetorical effect, further relegating innovation to the realm of style as opposed to substance. Romney was slightly more specific when using the word during his convention acceptance speech, but not by much.

What did you think of the debates? Should there have been more on innovation than there was? Let us know in the comments.

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