First Debate: Evaluating Romney's, Obama's Perspectives
Keeping with an obsession held by Americans since the Boston Tea Party, tonight's presidential debate on economy tended inevitably to taxation.
Taxation is important to Americans because we want to know how large of a chunk the government is going to seize from our biweekly paycheck. However, in the political arena, it also dictates how much responsibility the federal government takes for generating and directing the spending of revenue.
The primary difference between President Obama's and Governor Romney's positions during the economy debate related directly to this question of responsibility. Romney - the spokesman for a party that has historically eschewed the idea of big government - unsurprisingly advocated tirelessly for a shifting of this responsibility away from Washington.
Romney noted in the debate three ways to increase federal revenue: raise taxes, cut spending and grow the economy. He openly acknowledged that, for him, the first option was off the table. Romney wants to lower taxes - for everyone.
The general consensus is that these cuts will cost the government $5 trillion in revenue, though Romney fought doggedly for the last word in the segment on jobs, to repeat for a third time that this number was completely inaccurate. Whatever the accurate number is, however (he never gave it to us), the federal government is still dealing with extraordinary debt, which it needs to ameliorate in one way or another.
So, Romney unveiled the second part of his plan - cutting tax deductions and exemptions at the end of the fiscal year.
Wait a minute. Aside from the fact that fewer deductions will make federal tax returns even more of a pain in the ass than they already are, they will also constitute a tax increase in their own right. How do we know that limiting deductions won't actually lead to most Americans paying more in taxes than they ever have before?
Well, that might solve America's revenue problem. But it will also have the exact draining effect on the American people Romney says he is trying to avoid. Conversely, if it doesn't generate enough revenue, Romney's only solution seems to be shifting federal responsibility to state governments.
As Romney is arguing that states are the laboratories of democracy, I cannot help thinking of the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the original American government that gave more power to state governments than the federal one.
Obama, meanwhile, is repeatedly emphasizing the federal responsibility to educate America. Yes, education might be costly, but nothing pays off like an educated populace. It's ironic that Republicans often use the "teach a man to fish" defense as an argument against Democratic government handouts. Because they simultaneously want to reduce government spending on education, which is where people, if you will, learn to fish in the first place.
Lower taxes all around may sound like a utopia to many Americans, but there's a reason that the book called "Utopia" inspired a system of government that helped lead to the Cold War. If lower taxes come at the expense of the federal government's obligations to the American people, that free break might not be so nice.
Education is the cornerstone of a succesful society. The better a population's critical thinking skills - the more people have been taught to think for themselves and to think outside the box - and the greater the exposure they have had to history - to public failures and to public achievements - the better equipped they are to face the onslaught of problems looming over America today.
We're facing the greatest econmic crisis since the Great Depression, and the rest of the world isn't doing so hot either. We're facing terrorist threats, for one thing.
But we're also facing an education system that is dangerously close to falling off a cliff. Teachers are underpaid. Resources are scant. State college tuition is sky-rocketing, particularly in California, state university systems are sending threatening letters to applicants to support government funding for education. Public school classrooms continue to expand. Obama mentioned tonight a teacher from Las Vegas with forty-two children in her class, some of whom had to sit on the floor.
Education is in big trouble, and thus it requires a big solution. Obama's consistent emphasis on education was comforting, because it demonstrates he understands the size of this solution.
Romney, on the other hand, only brought up education as a defensive mechanism. Obama repeatedly brought up education as the key to a healthy economy. Romney mentioned as an afterthought to the economic discussion that he had no plan to cut education spending.
Is "not planning to cut" really good enough for education? Shouldn't we, as Americans, demand more? An attitude not just of toleration of education spending, but encouragement of education spending?
We have to look at it realistically. Education does not need to be left alone. It needs to be helped. Badly.
Partisan grildock is one of the most dangerous threats facing American democratic government today. It stagnates government by making legislative compromise impossible, and it deconstructs presidential campaigns into inarticulate spectacles of mudslinging.
It has gotten so bad of late that former Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, was taken apart by his party for hugging Obama at a 2010 event in Fort Meyers.
The short discussion about this threat was certainly a low point in the debate. First of all, despite how bad of an effect it could have on government efficiency, it was barely addressed during the discussion. Second of all, neither candidate offered any sort of solution to the issue beyond abstract ideological comments on the nature of party cooperation.
Romney said the problem would be solved by effective leadership (he was implying, of course, his leadership), but he didn't explain what steps that leader would have to take. Furthermore, as Obama pointed out, Romney plans to completely undo the health care plan Democrats have been working on for years, which will probably obliterate any chance he has of fostering a good relationship with the other party.
Obama said the solution was about knowing when to say "no," both to those in other parties and to those in your own. That might reduce the risk of issue flip-flops, which Romney is infamous for, but it saying "no" more certainly won't reduce gridlock. In fact, it wil probably make it worse. Democrats already know how to refuse Republicans; teaching them how to say "no" to each other will mean even less individuals for them to work with.
The presidential candidates are the single most important representatives of their respective parties. They lead their parties. If they don't start leading their parties to compromise, we could be in big trouble.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage on the 2012 debate here.
Reach Columnist Francesca Bessey here.