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On The Second Presidential Debate… and how stupid it was

October 17, 2012 1 comment

Tonight was a fun night to love politics. I went to an event where a room full of policy students watched the debate together. There was some mild frustration, there were a lot of laughs, and there were some tense moments that drew audible reactions. And somewhere in the middle of it all, it hit me just how stupid this whole spectacle was.

Look, there are plenty of issues to discuss from the debate. There were plenty of potentially big moments. The fact checkers will assuredly be busy. But does any of it matter? Much as cable news has devolved into entertainment, so too has political discourse–and no longer only from the talking heads. The candidates for the highest office in the land themselves are engaged in entertaining the viewers.

In the first debate, Mitt Romney was “aggressive,” which meant he interrupted. That scored well, so now everyone interrupts everyone–each other, moderators, and I’m pretty sure Obama interrupted himself once, though that may have just been a stutter. Romney said he had binders full of women, and the internet lit up with a facebook page and a blog of memes posted before the debate even ended. Obama said that the gang-bangers should be deported, and facebook newsfeeds and twitter went wild. I’m part of this. I enjoyed it. I thought that it was all pretty hilarious.

Did you see what happened when the candidates got a chance to talk to a Hispanic voter? The one who asked about undocumented workers? Did you catch her name? Because the candidates sure did. They each asked her name. Romney asked, checked, re-checked. Then Obama got his chance, and also checked to ensure he had her name right. We need the Hispanic vote! We better get that name right!

And the bickering. When are we going to learn that the only way to moderate a debate is to bestow upon the moderator the power to turn off microphones? The most blatant abuse was when Candy Crowley stated that she had to move on, and Mitt Romney said, point blank, “No.” That was the trend all night. Talking at each other, over each other, over the moderator, around the topic, off the topic, returning to topics long-since-passed.

Zingers. One-liners. Gaffes. Social media trends. Focus-tested word choice. Oh, the focus-tested word choices. You say “illegal,” I say “undocumented.” The middle class has been “crushed” and “buried.” China “cheats.” The term “good-paying jobs” was big tonight, and has always bothered me. How is that grammatically correct? Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb. If something is describing how something else pays, why don’t you use the adverb? I’m getting off track, and that’s exactly the point.

Tonight, I was a commodity. I was marketed to. Tonight, focus groups and advisers went to work to win my allegiance. And I was not convinced; I was instead entertained. This is similar to when you go to see the latest action movie and within minutes decide that it’s clearly a comedy even though it wasn’t intended to be. “So bad it’s funny,” you might say. Tonight, politics was so bad that it was funny. If only it wasn’t supposed to be so important.

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On Taxes. I’m So Sick of Writing About Mitt Romney’s Tax Plan

October 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I think I’ve finally made sense out of the rhetoric about Governor Romney’s tax plan; of the independent reports and of the “6 reports” that disputed the first report. I think I know what’s going on. It was hidden in Romney’s answers tonight, of all places. Listening to President Obama and Romney discuss Romney’s tax proposals reminded me of the old Highlights Magazines in doctors’ office waiting rooms. There are two pictures side by side, and you have to pick out the differences. They’re subtle, but they’re there. Did you hear it? Were you listening?

Here it is. Obama talks about the tax rates for the top 2% (generally couples above $250,000; individuals above $200,000). If you cut those tax rates by 20%, as Romney proposes, then there don’t appear to be enough deductions to eliminate to make up for the lost revenue just from that bracket.

However, Romney talked about the top 5%, and maintaining the same share of the tax burden as they currently pay (about 60% of income taxes). Now, first of all, maintaining the same share of the tax burden does not rule out a tax cut if everyone else is also getting a tax cut. But that aside, the 5% versus the 2% is how they make the numbers work. If the top 5% are getting deductions eliminated, then revenue neutrality can be achieved even if the top 2% are getting a cut, paid for by reduced deductions for the 95th-97th percentiles (the next 3%).

I don’t know the general income numbers for those percentiles, but I have a hunch that it lines up fairly well with Martin Feldstein’s defense of Romney’s plan which called for eliminating deductions for all those making over $100,000 a year. And thus, if you make between $100,000 and $200,000 as an individual or the equivalent tax bracket as a couple, Mitt Romney’s tax plan is likely to hurt you. And that’s what we learned in tonight’s debate. Obama’s plan hurts the top 2%. Romney’s plan will probably help the top 2% on the backs of the next 3%. And hopefully, I’ll never write about Mitt Romney’s tax plan again.