President Obama clearly came ready to play Tuesday night, and Mitt Romney may have touched the borders of disrespect, but in the end I came away convinced (once more) that this race will go down to the wire.
On the economy, Obama made a good case that the glass is half-full. Romney made a good case that the glass is half-empty. Obama thinks he’ll win by contrasting his and Romney’s values, not by offering any compelling agenda for a second term. Romney thinks he’ll win on Obama’s economic record, and on being a credible-enough alternative to make things better.
The country seems pretty perfectly split on this, so it may well come down to who can get their voters out in what numbers in key states. Get ready to stay up late on Nov. 6. Or even for the days after.
Separately, the second debate was yet another reminder that, on many of the issues that matter, we’re in a state of bipartisan denial or evasion. Three quick examples:
Manufacturing jobs. Both men spoke of how to get those jobs back. Neither acknowledged the reality that the manufacturing jobs coming back pay $14 to $18 an hour, not the $40-an-hour plus benefits that, say, auto jobs delivered in their heyday. In other words, getting these types of jobs back would be great, but they’re not an “answer” to what ails the middle class.
Guns. Was there ever a more depressing reminder that our entire political system is held hostage by the National Rifle Association? Real people want assault weapons and similar weapons outlawed. But Obama and Romney tiptoed carefully to avoid saying anything that might arouse the wrath of the NRA. Talk about hidden puppeteers pulling the strings. Sad.
Taxes. No one will tell the people the simple truth: As we retire the baby boom generation, and thus double the number of people on Social Security and Medicare, taxes will inevitably rise, and not just on the well-to-do. Politically it’s seen as too risky to acknowledge these facts of demography and math. But it makes the whole discussion on taxes and spending a charade. Instead of arguing about how best to fund the boomers’ retirement in ways that still promote economic growth, we act as if we won’t need to pay for it at all.