Yes, Mitt Romney trounced President Barack Obama stylistically in their first debate -- it was the difference between soaring and sitting -- but he won on substance, too, a feat made easier because he had a basic truth on his side, namely four years of failed policy. Liberals are already hiding from that, as if hope and change materialized and Obama could have made the case.
The defenses, in fact, are meager, and the president preferred to talk more about new welsh-ready promises than what's been. He also went on the attack, happily mischaracterizing his opponent's tax policy as gifts to the rich, burdens for the middle class and defeat for deficit reduction.
This story was first put forth by an outfit called the Tax Policy Center that added its own provisions to the Romney plan, added them up, found something horrendous and then passed the package off as a legit calculation of what Romney would do.
Even if you huff, puff, brandish graduate degrees and daily inhale the self-importance permeating Washington, you can't get away with that, and soon enough others showed what buncombe this study was, failing however to convince Obama. Citing it, he said in the debate there was no way Romney could reduce tax rates and sufficiently lower deductions to keep tax revenue neutral without middle class punishment. He made it sound as if his own policies would take from the rich and give to everyone else while debt went away.
Romney explained it to him. He said there are three ways to deal with deficits -- tax hikes, spending reductions and economic growth. He favors the last two. If you cut taxes the right way, you get growth, and that means higher revenue. You do not rely on "trickle-down" government but can rely on private enterprise that does indeed need regulation, but not bad regulation, not regulations that make it overly difficult for people to buy homes, for instance. He said private enterprise would produce the jobs that he wants to give back to the nation, relieving us from a situation in which millions are either unemployed or underemployed and middle class incomes have dropped by thousands of dollars.
As for lowering the deductions, he is happy to work out the specifics later in negotiations with Congress, he said. Romney can negotiate. He proved it when, as the Republican governor of Massachusetts, he worked successfully with a predominantly Democratic legislature. He noted that the leaders of Obama's own deficit reduction commission had recommended a plan something like his -- lower rates, lower deductions -- and said Obama had himself walked away from that plan. Obama replied that he was going to push commission principles hard, and Romney replied he had his first term to do that and had not.
Romney and Obama tangled over oil company taxes after Romney talked about the steep increase in gasoline prices under Obama. The president said that although he favored a drop in oil company corporate rates, he also wanted to end a deduction that Romney said he might get rid of, too, if he was first able to reduce the corporate rates. Romney then pointed out that Obama has arranged for many tens of billions more in grants or loans to green-energy companies than oil companies receive. He said that in a number of cases the benefiting firms have gone out of business, that the recipients included donors to the 2008 Obama campaign and that the money could have helped the hiring of teachers.
There was lots, lots more, but what the differences boiled down to was this: You can on the one hand have faith in constitutional limits on federal government, respect the capacities of states and aim to unleash the energies and genius of the American people, or you can insist on top-heavy, intensely centralized, Washington-knows-best, deficit-nutty programs of the kind that have lately given us the worst economic recovery since World War II.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.)