Is This Really Political Discourse? My First and Last Experience with the Debates

I wasn't planning on watching the debates, but my wife made me watch the first 20 minutes.  Is this really what passes for political discourse in this country?  I was particularly struck by the appeals to unnamed authorities -- both candidates said something like "I saw a study the other day [unnamed] that said my plan was great" or "your plan was bad."  Seriously pathetic.

And, after the corporatism and cronyism of the last 8+ years, the fact that Romney could not explain why it made sense to cut tax rates but eliminate deductions just convinced me he deserves to lose.  He was losing to class warfare rhetoric on tax cuts, when he should have been taking the high ground, even with the occupy wall street folks, saying that it was time to stop tilting the tax code towards special interests and populist fads at least one of which -- the tilting of the tax code to home ownership -- helped drive the recent economic downturn.

I blog and don't tend to debate in real time, because I always think of great quips hours later, but even I had the perfect rejoinder for Obama in real time when he said, "I think we should return to Clinton era tax rates, when the economy was great and growing."  Romney should have said, "If I am President, I will happily work with Democrats to do just that, as long as they agree to return to Clinton era spending levels.   After all, if government policy during that era was really so perfect for the economy, then spending levels must have been appropriate as well."

I don't plan to watch any more of this garbage until and unless they include someone other than the Coke and Pepsi candidates.   I'd like to see Gary Johnson but heck, even adding a Marxist would probably help.


  1. Russ:

    just cited your old haunt. High expectations don't work in politics or golf.

  2. JW:

    I was watching some of the Regan debates with both Carter and Mondale. No mater what you feel about the guy, he was brutally effective in those debates. Quick on his feet too.

  3. mesocyclone:

    Debates are about winning. Romney did a very good job. They are not about explaining an ideology - they are about selling a candidate. You expect too much if you think they're going to have an intellectual discussion.

    In other words, get serious! This isn't a collegiate debate - this is about influencing the least informed voters (undecideds). Given that, I thought Romney did about as well as he could about devolving the power to the states (which at least is closer to the people) without making the mistake - and a huge mistake it would have been - of scaring people about entitlements.

    As other commenters on other threads have suggested: it makes sense to vote for the lesser of evils. If you are a Libertarian, that has to be Romney. It makes no sense to trash the guy who is closer to your position because he isn't perfect.

    There's a reason Gary Johnson isn't on that stage: he doesn't have a
    chance, and frankly, everyone who cares already knows what he is going
    to say, because Libertarians are drearily predictable, since their
    political discussions sound like old time Marxist societies, except on
    the opposite side.

  4. John O.:

    "Debates are about winning. Romney did a very good job. They are not
    about explaining an ideology - they are about selling a candidate. You
    expect too much if you think they're going to have an intellectual
    discussion." That is a very good look at the presidential debates but everything else said after that I find to be unconvincing.

    Sure this isn't a real debate, as both candidates basically have rehearsed miniature speeches for every question posed to them. The issue is that political debates are boring to Americans, something that developed over time in the 20th Century from the ease of access to various forms of entertainment. The people now pretty much don't pay attention to politics because they find it to be unappealing when they have video games, MTV, sports, and movies to watch on their free time. The candidates understand this and have taken to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the audience/viewers.

    Voting for the "lesser of two evils" does not make any sense to me. Elections are decided well before election day, and statistically its silly to worry about my vote being the vote that causes a candidate to win or lose as its impossible to know. I vote for my principles and only the candidate that satisfies them gets my vote. I can abstain my vote if I find that nobody offers me any support for my principles. Voting for Romney as a Libertarian disgusts me as I do not share his principles. And I firmly believe that those who think they're supporting the "lesser evil" are foolish as they're merely throwing away their principles for some bad compromises. Voting for me is not a feel-good statement to ensure the "lesser evil" wins, instead voting is for the principle and throwing it away by voting for the "lesser evil" is a shallow way to feel good about participating in an election. I want to feel good knowing that I will vote Libertarian based on my principles. I'm unyielding on this as my principles are not for sale for any promise or price.

    Lastly, the other parties weren't invited because of the fact that the entrenchment of the two party system is beneficial to both of them. And they both feel vulnerable to losing the election to each other by losing votes to a third party. Vote "stealing" by a third party, costing a candidate a candidate an election is well known in two-party dominated electoral systems, its just been understood to prevent that the choices must be reduced to two at all costs for the benefit of both parties. They've done so by having the threshold for polling percentage numbers at a level that makes it rather difficult for a third party candidate get to. The only way the structures of the debates are going to change is to change our electoral systems away from two-party dominated first-past-the-post system to other types that allow transferable voting and are not reliant on straight ticket ballots.

  5. mesocyclone:

    I think those that throw away progress towards their principle because they can't get exactly their principles are pretty silly. I guess if it makes you feel better, vote your principle.

    But... by doing so, if in deed the third party causes the election to be thrown, it's likely to be towards the person least close to your principles, which is folly. For example, Ross Perot (a sort of flakey tea-party sort) led to Bill Clinton. Ralph Nader (a leftist) led to George Bush.

    It's natural, because the third party in the US tends to be a more ideologically pure version that is closer to one party than the other. Thus, it steals votes from the party closest to it ideologically. That leads to the paradoxical result that voting for a third party candidate, if it has any effect at all, leads to the worst outcome from the standpoint of those voting for him. Put another way, voting for a third party candidate in a close race is dumb. Voting for one where the outcome is already certain can be a way to get rid of frustration.

    Hence I usually vote Libertarian for State Mine Inspector, because rational ignorance causes me to not have a clue who the best candidate is, so why not throw my vote in a weird direction.

    If you want to see the wonders of true multi-party government, just look at the Europe or Israel. Lots of parties, resulting in absurdities - especially in Israel where the hard left and the hard right unite to form a "government" sometimes. You might also notice that none of those places are Libertarian paradises.

  6. obloodyhell:

    }}}} And I firmly believe that those who think they're supporting the "lesser evil" are foolish as they're merely throwing away their principles for some bad compromises.

    Indeed, when good is the enemy of perfect, bad wins every time. I have no doubt I'll be disappointed with Romney on multiple fronts. But I do grasp that, last year, Obama and his ilk took out a $10,000 line of credit in my name to pay for services I don't want or need. And that's JUST for the last year. How bad it will be when he no longer has to worry about getting re-elected is an experience I don't want to have. Too close to a barium enema, is my guess.

    I could list off a half a DOZEN reasons for voting AGAINST Obama that override any and every reason, in total, for not voting for Romney. And yes, Warren -- voting for Johnson is just ludicrously stupid in a close election. You're like the morons who voted for Nader in 2000 -- if they hadn't, then Gore might have actually won.... then where would we be? Another experience I'm grateful we didn't have.

    If you want to be stupid, then, by all means -- vote for anyone but the current likely winners just to be in a snit. But don't freaking come on this blog and then whine about more regulations and shit when you stood by and did nothing to prevent the king of BS regulation from getting re-elected.

    Romney may suck, but he doesn't suck the way we KNOW Obama does. So shame on you, sir, for not recognizing which one is WORSE if not feeling either is BETTER.

  7. Robbo:

    "...Romney could not explain why it made sense to cut tax rates but eliminate deductions just convinced me he deserves to lose"

    It is not about what Romney deserves. No-one really deserves the Presodency. It is about what Americans, and to some extent the rest of the world deserve in a President - four more years like the last four years, or a change ?

  8. Daublin:

    "Sure this isn't a real debate, as both candidates basically have rehearsed miniature speeches for every question posed to them."

    I feel the same; at best I will read the transcripts.

    In fairness, I am not sure what a real debate would look like. In the last few hundred years, all of the more serious thinking and discussion has gone on in writing. High-brow academic conferences often stage verbal debates between proponents of different views, but everyone rightfully thinks of them as circus side shows.

    I'd rather see an essay contest between the candidates than a verbal sparring match. But then, I'm pretty depressed about the whole circus overall. Somehow everywhere I turn, people are digging deep to come up with some reason to feel good about Obama. Assassinations, deficits, crony capitalism, broken health care changes, airport groping... somehow this is all supposed to be okay, because his opponent is not perfect?

  9. fredrick.:

    Nah, if you are libertarian, you need to vote Romney if you are in a swing or leans slightly Obama state. IN CA where I live I can safely vote for Gary with no qualms.

  10. fredrick.:

    Just a handful of votes put Al Franken into the Senate - it was Al Franken, an unexpected Dem win that gave Obama 60 senators to enact Obamacare. Elections and votes do have consequences and are not always decided months before the election, as you claim.

  11. fredrick.:

    Personally I do the same. There is no point in wasting two hours of my life watching a debate when I can get the highlights the next day - can read the transcript quicker - and will already know who is perceived to have won.

  12. fredrick.:

    I am not sure if Nader with his 2% of the vote really threw the election. Seems more like left wing spin. Perot got some 20% of the vote.

    Regardless Bush Jr was an awful president and if the Dems had put up someone like Lieberman, I would have voted Dem for only the second time in my life. But how, in Gods name, can anyone vote for Kerry.

  13. fredrick.:

    Even Gary Johnson is no panacea for those searching for perfection.

  14. fredrick.:

    Coherency can be your friend.

  15. fredrick.:

    That sounds like a fortune cookie.

    "Gary Johnson is no panacea for those searching for perfection." - between the sheets :P

  16. ErikTheRed:

    Still looking for what the significant change is. It's pretty pathetic that the GOP has *nothing* when it comes to promoting their candidate, other than that he's "not Obama."

  17. Captain Profit:

    About 52 minutes into the debate, Romney confirms that a vote for either him or Obama is a wasted vote: "Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation. As a businessperson, I had to have -- I need to know the regulations. I needed them there. You couldn't have people opening up banks in their -- in their garage and making loans. I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work."

  18. Brian Dunbar:

    Johnson did a sort of running commentary, live on YouTube, during most of the debate.

    I was quite taken with the idea, and with Johnson. There he was, a guy who wants to be President, actually -watching- his competitors, sometimes replying, and with a lot of passion and as appropriate, disgust. Came across as a real guy, not a pol.

    Not the smoothest orator on the block, but I like the cut of his giblets.

  19. Fred_Z:

    The perfect is the enemy of the good and often destroys it.

  20. Nehemiah:

    if they hadn't, then Gore might have actually won.... then where would we be?

    Well at least the planet would be cooler.

  21. Torontonian:

    Despite all his failings,, I'd actually prefer to see Obama win.

    The country is in such a severe economic/fiscal mess that it doesn't really matter who wins in November... disaster is inevitable either way.

    And if disaster is inevitable, I'd greatly prefer to have a recognized statist at the reins when the wagon goes into the ditch.

  22. Jeff Bishop:

    Choosing between these two is like choosing between being grilled over low heat or high heat. Either way, you're just as cooked.

    Even if my choice is unlikely to win, I'd rather vote to walk away from the grill than to choose the precise timing of my demise with confidence that my choice will win.

    Voting for the lesser evil is fine if the degree of evil is low, but personally, I find both to be intolerable choices.

  23. John O.:

    I made the poor assumption of the discussion being solely on the presidential election. A national presidential race is determined with the beginning of the primaries and their campaigns that begin nearly a year before the actual general election. The local races involve far fewer voters and are in shorter times spans, length depending on the office involved and the local procedures as often the Presidential primary is held separate from all other party primaries. In New York state where I reside, primaries for congressional, state and local offices are in Late August-Early September, this gives a short window for the campaign and can influence the outcome if there are many undecided voters, compared to the March primary for the Presidential election.

    The whole system of the primaries allows multiple candidates to be slowly reduced to two. Two is important because humans tend to prefer a system of two involving opposing choices as its comprehension is easier and doesn't require as much thought when it involves grey area choices. Anyway, as the election campaign begins with the primaries, the choice for a particular subset of the population is set on a particular candidate, they're the early supporters, as the primary season winds down and candidates are eliminated the supporters of defeated candidates become secondary supporters for the leading candidate (not always gracefully, but they usually do). The leading candidates of the two parties then campaign for tertiary supporters and its is in this period in the period between the end of the major primaries (late spring and early summer) until party convention. All of the rhetoric in the campaigns in this period shifts towards the other party's leading candidate and when its effective the election can in theory be decided then and there. Of course this assumes we have a large pool of voters and a long enough time span like the national primaries do for Presidential campaigns, in smaller local races the issue is similar but more condensed as there are fewer candidates in those primaries and fewer people to campaign for the issue can be decided allot closer towards election time. There's not much attention paid to knowing when enough people have made their decision because its not always something tracked in polls. An election can be determined by voters who decide at the last minute but those types of situation in a Presidential election is highly improbable compared a local race. Generally polls only look for decided voters and who they are going to vote for and undecided voters who may have an idea but are hesitant to inform the pollster for a number of reasons, from lack attention to the campaigns to not feeling comfortable with their own choice for president.

    The real issue though falls on who can get the most of the voters to not only side with them but also just show up and vote. Having voters show up can mean far more than any campaign message ever did. I've missed plenty of local elections because I wasn't paying attention to the calender (local elections in New York are in odd numbered years) and I've had to put with with some terrible officials who were elected by the voters who showed up. In the case of the US Senate race in Minnesota, voter turnout was approximately 78% according to this chart ( and there were 5 candidates on the ballot. Having just another percentage of voter turnout could have tipped the balance much easier for either of the two parties as that's an added 37,401 voters out of 3,740,142 eligible voters for that election compared to the 312 vote margin of victory.

  24. Archer2010:

    Shoot. I stumbled across your site by way of Maggie's Farm recently. I believed a few of the posts were thoughtful. My mistake.

  25. Mark:

    It is absolutely incorrect to state that Romney did not explain not state why it made sense to cut tax rates but eliminate deductions. Warren must have simply missed it. Here is what Romney said:

    1. Cutting tax rates will increase growth and help create jobs from that growth. That means more people working and paying taxes (and not collecting unemployment benefits). The tax rate of the highest bracket you pay in income taxes is essentially the marginal tax rate. Lowering marginal tax rates increases NET cash flows from investment. Increased NET cash flows means a higher investment level. That is inarguable.

    2. Eliminating deductions expands the tax base, and by eliminating deductions and loopholes, particularly corporate tax loopholes, you can lower rates significantly while maintaining static tax revenues.

  26. Mark:

    You seriously don't believe this, do you? The free market depends on property rights, which means certain regulations are essential. Sometimes the pure, libertarian viewpoint espoused here makes people into idiots.

  27. mesaeconoguy:

    I did not watch either.

    From the crap-media-filtered soundbites today, Romney made a
    very convincing argument against taxation, albeit from the unacceptable Repug
    weak acceptance of the Marxist premise that “the rich” “steal” (zero-sum game fallacy).

    Barry said nothing new, so he is playing it 1. very close to
    the vest, or 2. he is more incompetent than we knew.

    Axelrod thinks its 1, but more likely 2.

  28. mesaeconoguy:

    I disagree with the premise that the single greatest reason
    to eliminate Obama is the Supreme Court; Obama doesn’t care one whit about
    Court rulings. Executive orders will
    destroy what little is left of any private property you have, including
    retirement accounts, closely held companies, and private assets in general.

    Denigrate this hyperbole at your own risk.

    If you help reelect this tyrant, you will literally help the
    King seize your lands, and your assets, without any representation,* in pursuit
    of socialism.

    *The best estimates of British economic tax impact leading
    up to the Revolutionary War ranged from 3% to 5% GDP. Government taxation and transfer payments
    will exceed 25% GDP under Obama’s second reign should it unfortunately occur.

  29. Russ Armstrong:

    "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." ~ Winston Churchill

  30. Russ Armstrong:

    Not true. If this becomes an incredibly close election, and Romney wins in the electoral college, but Obama wins the total, nationwide popular vote, cities will burn.

  31. Russ Armstrong:

    If the votes for Nader in New Hampshire had gone to Gore, Gore would have been elected.

  32. Captain Profit:

    I believe that a vote for Romney or Obama is a wasted vote. Seriously. There's hardly a sliver of daylight between the two of them. But I suspect that this is not what you're trying to ask me.
    I believe that consummate respect for every individual's right to life, liberty, and property is essential to the function of the free market. What I don't believe is that preventing an individual from opening a bank in his garage, bearing in mind my previous statement, would be beneficial to anyone other than entrenched banking interests and the bureaucrats they're in bed with.

  33. fredrick.:

    what about the votes for Micky mouse? In every election about 3% of the vote goes to odd parties and whatnot. You think those Nader voters really would have gone for Kerry, or would they have voted Green , Libertarian or some bizarre party anyway instead? 20% understandable 2% sour grapes.

  34. fredrick.:

    So I should vote Obama, just to avoid immature leftist violence?

    Hyperbole at its worst.

  35. fredrick.:

    If you put your head under a pillow and cover your ears you are bound not to hear anything about the GOP nominee. WTF are you talking about?

    And unfortunately if I posted a few articles here for you to read - so you can keep your world view - you would just ignore them. So I won't bother.

  36. mesaeconoguy:

    Completely absurd.

    Obama is an avowed socialist willing to overturn 200+ years
    of bankruptcy law, and literally seize private property by diktat.

    Romney has a history of weak-kneed interventionism, but there is a massive gap between his
    economic views and Barry the Socialist’s.
    Yes, Barry is a socialist, and likely a fascist (e.g. GM, Chrysler “bailouts”)..

    You are a fool if you don’t see this.

  37. Mark:

    IF you believe that allowing any individual to open a bank in his garage is good policy, then you are grossly mistaken. Banking is the achilles heal of the free market system. The fractional reserve, money creating nature of its operations means that certain fundamental minumums of standards need to be created. The alternative to these minimal regulations is a nightmare. For example, without regulations on banks, each and every draft drawn on a bank (i.e. check) would have to be severely discounted because they would not have even close to the same value. How much would a draft drawn on that "garage" bank be worth? How would another bank ascertain its worth? This was what it was like back in the pre-Civil War days were notes from hundreds of different state banks floated across the economy, and this created very high transactional costs.
    So, while I agree that we may live in an overregulated state, that is not equivalent to believing we should live in a state without regulations. And, anyone who believes such anarchy does not live in a world of realtiy.

  38. chuck coffer:

    Make sure you really make a mess jerking off in the booth. Spray "you" all over everybody. Remember! Voting is all about YOU!

  39. Russ Armstrong:

    Fredrick: Re-read my post. I said "if the votes for Nader . . . had gone to Gore." Was that hard to understand?

  40. Russ Armstrong:

    Fred: My premise is mathematical. This could be a very close election between Obama and Romney. Nobody else. If a sufficient number of people in states where Romney has a no chance (e.g. CA), selfishly decide to flatter their ego and vote for a candidate who is simply not a contender, rather than voting for Romney, it is possible that Obama could win the nationwide popular vote, but Romney could win in the electoral college. That sets up the danger I mention.

  41. BenfromMO:

    Am I the only person who would tell you to vote for who you want to?
    It doesn't matter if the candidate has no chance...or whatever the case. Our vote is important and it doesn't matter if "the vote makes it more likely that Obama would win" Or Romney.
    We are not supposed to be stuck in some sort of weird reality where we are only allowed to vote for people with R or D behind their names. We are supposed to have the freedom to vote for who we want to. If more people start voting for libertarians in general perhaps this would give them more of a say in the future and more power. As that happens, they will be taken seriously.
    That being said, I personally do not like Gary Johnson and although as another libertarian he shares a lot of my interests, I don't think that is what our country needs now. The way I look at it is this: We should all vote based on the person and not the label at the end of the name. End of story.

  42. GoneWithTheWind:

    The choice is between an anti-American neo-Manchurian candidate with a secret agenda and a mediocre politician who no one expects to "save" us. What is so hard about that choice???

  43. obloodyhell:

    }}}} other than that he's "not Obama."

    Even IF that were true, it would still be adequate all by itself. He was a massive mistake on Jan 21, 2008, and nothing in the last 4 years has changed that. He's even underperformed MY expectations, and, trust me -- mine were remarkably low.

  44. obloodyhell:

    fredrick, I'm clearly with you, but never behave as though you're attempting to change the view of the person you're debating. You're in fact putting your arguments out for ALL to see. That there's no chance of convincing your opponent is irrelevant.


  45. obloodyhell:

    But but but... they don't WANNNNNAAAAAAAAA....

  46. obloodyhell:

    You're confusing two issues. One is voting for who you want as a statement. The other is voting for or against someone you believe is harming the nation. Making a statement is less important than the latter.

    I don't give a rat's ass about the labels. I give a rat's ass about whose policies are wrecking the nation and will only get much worse when he no longer has to worry about getting re-elected. Making a statement when your vote may count on the latter is foolish. It's your vote. You can agree with me, and cast it as I and others suggest is important, or you can disagree with me, and cast it however you want. That's part of what the process is about.

  47. Captain Profit:

    You make a very good point. A Romney win automatically sets us up for another contest between two lamers in 2016. In the unlikely event of a Romney win, I picture him serving out Bush's fourth term essentially the same way Obama would have, and the 2016 democrat platform claiming that Romney's policies reversed all the good that Obama did and we need a divine interventionist to get things back on track.

  48. fredrick.:

    Vote for Rosanne Barre 'Peace and Freedom' Party. Hey how can a vote for the Communist Party be wasted.

  49. fredrick.:

    It is widely believed if Obama is re-elected a case against the second amendment will be engineered through the courts after a key placement or two of new justices.

    After the executive destroys our wealth the liberal court will destroy our ability to defend what is left.

  50. fredrick.:

    It is usually best to wait until the next day and wait for the analysis. If it was worth watching it is available on Youtube and elsewhere - but usually it is not.