The first presidential debate provided no answers.
Mitt Romney’s oversold triumph came only if you judged it as a theatrical performance with the salesman from Bain ticking off bullet points, pretending to be specific but not saying much of anything. He declared his plan “is not like anything that’s been tried before” but offered a barely reheated version of what Republican candidates have been peddling for decades: tax cuts with unspecified loophole closing, deep cuts in unnamed domestic programs, hikes in military spending, more corporate trade deals, deregulation, and education reform (read vouchers, charters and no support for even the basics). He promised this would produce 12 million new jobs over the next four years, essentially the number that independent analysts such as Moody’s Analytics project if the recovery takes its course.
But in the reality-based world, deep spending cuts combined with no net tax cut (Romney’s new debate promise) would lower deficits but cost Americans jobs and the recovery. Republicans and Romney essentially admit this, howling that cutting military spending would put people out of work.
It follows as night to day that cutting spending on roads or schools or veterans’ services would also add to the unemployment rolls.
Obama offered a tepid contrast in the debate. He started, sensibly enough, by reminding Americans of something Romney seems to have forgotten: the free fall that the economy was in when he took office. But when it came to what comes next, the president didn’t even mention his own jobs program that the Republican House had torpedoed. Instead, after calling for investment in education and “new sources of energy here in America,” he moved to “taking some of the money that we’re saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way.”
Much of the remainder of the debate was a mangled discussion of deficit reduction, with Romney flunking math, claiming he could bring deficits down without new tax revenue or cuts in Medicare, Social Security or education, while increasing the military budget — and the president lamely trying to defend arithmetic.
This campaign takes place as the economy faces fierce headwinds. Europe is headed into a recession; China and India’s economies are slowing. Manufacturing is losing jobs as export demand flags. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is taking extraordinary measures to try to keep the United States above water. Yet political Washington is focused on deficits, not on jobs.