The University of Denver in Denver, Colorado is the location for the first of three debates scheduled between current U.S. President and Democratic party nominee Barack Obama, and former Massachusetts Governor and Republican party nominee Mitt Romney, on Wednesday, October 3, 2012. The candidates have now moved on from the festive and, at times, controversial, atmosphere of their respective party conventions, to a somber and important conversation between them, about the topics that are a part of the daily conversation for Americans this year. The Executive Editor of the PBS channel news program “Newshour”, Jim Lehrer, returns this election season to host, and serve as moderator for, his 12th nationally televised presidential debate. While the candidates have suspended their campaigning in order to prepare for their first public debate, the issues that continue to dominate the U.S. domestic scene will certainly come into sharp focus, in a debate that will consist of a total of six time segments of approximately fifteen minutes each in length. The issues to be discussed by the candidates have been agreed to in advance of the debate. Lehrer said on September 19, as he announced the issues that would be debated on Wednesday, that the first three segments would focus on “the economy”, while the final three would discuss “health care, the role of government, and governing”.
Each candidate will be asked a question by the moderator, and the candidate will respond with his answer, representing his personal view on the question. Some new proposals may be introduced during the debate, and while the debate will have few direct interactions between the candidates, both candidates are expected to question the proposals of their opponent. The first meeting between President Obama and Mitt Romney will set the tone for the debates to follow, and while the exact words from each candidate have yet to be spoken in the debate, the stark contrast between the candidates is similarly reminiscent of the debates of 1858 between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Illinois, and Senator Stephen Douglas, the incumbent Democratic party candidate. The U.S. electorate is sharply divided this year between Democrats and Republicans, and the remaining voters are making up their minds as to which candidate will win their support. Our discussion of the issues for the first presidential debate of 2012 opens the conversation among voters about who will lead the U.S. for the next four years.
The U.S. economy: The current state of the U.S. economy reflects ongoing political and economic insecurity gripping the world at the moment. Job growth is flat, incomes are falling, and business activity is growing at a meager pace. Whichever candidate wins the presidential election this year will find themselves facing economic circumstances which show no sign of being improved quickly. The candidates have a pronounced and important difference to their individual philosophies and how those impact the course they would choose to manage the U.S. economy.
Barack Obama’s view: President Obama has said that with a boost to cash for banks to work with, through recent actions by the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, QE3 will put more Americans back to work, businesses will have the capital they need to expand their operations, and that will increase employment. Obama’s jobs program, currently stalled in the U.S. Congress, would stabilize, then increase, hiring in the public sector to match the growth rate in the private sector, boosting economic activity.
Mitt Romney’s view: Mitt Romney says that growing the U.S. economy requires reducing the corporate income tax, loosening business regulation, and providing incentives from the government to encourage companies to hire more workers. Romney’s plan involves reducing the size and scope of government, automatically reducing government spending, which will free up more capital in the financial markets, and improve the overall lending climate for the banking industry so that banks can make more loans to both the business and consumer sectors of the financial industry. Romney believes that a smaller government will improve economic conditions overall for business and for private individuals.
Health Care: Health care costs continue to rise at a much faster rate than inflation, and both candidates have staked out sharply contrasting programs to reduce those costs. These differences between the candidates turns out to be the difference between publicly managed care, and private care.
Barack Obama’s view: President Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act as the solution to America’s health care cost issues. The new law requires individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty if they fail to do so. While the law will not be completely in effect until 2014, the President believes that the additional access to the health care system justifies an increased share of the public health system cost being paid for by the government.
Mitt Romney’s view: Mitt Romney has actively campaigned against further implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or what the Republican party refers to as “Obamacare”, and considers the law to be an unconstitutional exercise of power by the federal government over the lives of ordinary Americans. Romney has endorsed a plan to exempt all fifty states from being required to implement the new health care regulations under Obamacare, and has stated that market-based reforms and innovation will be more successful in bringing about a more affordable health care system, than by continuing to spend more money on the same health care system, as defined through Obamacare.
The role of government: Both candidates have a big difference in their beliefs, and it becomes even greater when talk turns to the role that government should play in the lives of Americans. The philosophical difference between the candidates also mirrors the philosophies of their respective political parties.
Barack Obama’s view: During his current term as the U.S. president, Barack Obama has encouraged the growth of programs and services to benefit more Americans, and believes that when government is meeting the social needs of its people, that government works better for all segments of our society. President Obama will look to speak about the importance of increasing the ability of government to serve more of the citizens.
Mitt Romney’s view: Mitt Romney believes that the biggest problem about the role of the federal government today is that there is too much of it, encroaching on the freedoms and liberties of Americans, and if we are to have our government work better for us, we must make it small enough to be able to manage it. Romney’s approach will be to focus on reducing the size and scope of government, arguing for a more streamlined and less intrusive government that has respect for its own laws.
Governing: Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have experience as leaders in government, and their style of governing is very different. One of the central themes of this year’s presidential campaign is the difference between the style and manner of how an elected leader should manage and direct the U.S. government.
Barack Obama’s view: President Obama’s style of governing involves a heavy reliance of advisers to direct and to manage the day to day affairs of the White House, while the President focuses on the major policy direction of his office. The president’s perspective on government has a controlling interest over his focus as President. President Obama believes that government has an important role to play in the day to day lives of Americans, and his style of governance tends to lead towards using federal solutions to solve problems on every level of government, all the way to the state and local level. The president tends to remain with an adviser, rather than replace them, even when a circumstance may arise that inhibits the effectiveness of that adviser’s decisions. Obama’s governing style can be confrontational at times, and the president has shown a tendency to stay with existing policies and programs, seeking to modify them, rather than to change, replace, or eliminate them. Obama will look to tout his progressive credentials, seeking to appeal to the more politically active liberal voters.
Mitt Romney’s view: Mitt Romney governs with a corporate, business-oriented style that is results oriented and driven. Romney has shown that he is unafraid to change course, to seek new solutions to old problems, that he will put the best person he believes can perform a task in charge of that task, and that they will remain there until they are needed elsewhere, or are not achieving the results that he is looking for. Romney will look to govern the U.S. in a manner where the president takes an active role in promoting free enterprise and business innovation, and breaks down barriers and obstacles to job creation. Mitt Romney has already demonstrated through his leadership, during his time as governor, that changes in circumstances can sometimes require a change in an approach, or in a policy or law, if that change must happen to create progress. The more conservative approach that Romney uses places freedom above government control, expanding business activity to improve the fiscal outlook for the government. Romney will focus on delivering a message of conservative fiscal and social values through his message, trying to garner new support from independent-minded voters.
This first of three presidential debates is not expected to bring significant controversy, but history shows that some unexpected consequences can result from a word or a phrase not delivered as it was intended to be. Both candidates are expected to be well prepared, and while there could be some surprises, the political speculation is that the candidates will keep their remarks brief and to the point, leaving little opportunity for any big mistakes. While this particular debate will be in a highly controlled setting, the first public meeting between the candidates since the party conventions will have tension, disagreement, and sharply different views. Much as in 1858, America is once again a very divided country. The first presidential debate of 2012 will likely have just as much drama, and controversy, as the first face to face debate of 1858 between Douglas and Lincoln. With an audience in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world seeking to get an indication of what the next four years might like, in regards to U.S. economic policy moving forward, this debate will have viewers and listeners around the world paying attention to the words that are spoken. While the debate might not have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the election, it is certain that it will have a part in establishing firmer support among the base of each candidate’s voting groups. While both candidates are seeking the votes of the center, their messages, and their focus, will still remain on keeping their individual base of core supporters excited.
The pre-debate advantage favors Mitt Romney: In the first presidential debate this year, President Obama is going to have a difficult time defending both his fiscal and his social policies from a two-pronged assault from Mitt Romney. The debate starts off with economic issues, and this is Obama’s greatest vulnerability. President Obama will have to find a way to work around his shortcomings here in the U.S. about the economy and the federal debt; and this will play to Romney’s advantage. There will be enough unemployed Americans watching and listening to the debate that will make their decision while the debates are ongoing, or shortly thereafter. It’s unlikely that Obama can win these voters over; but if the President can make the case that the reality is that he did not succeed in turning around the economy in the time that he wanted, and that prosperity is right around the corner, he could come away with a smaller negative from this debate. Clearly, the economy, and the Affordable Care Act, are two issues that Americans are most dissatisfied with. It would take a major mistake on Romney’s part for him not to come away the winner in this debate. Based upon the current U.S. domestic picture, and the issues to be discussed in the first debate, Romney stands to come out as a big winner from this debate. If that holds true, President Obama’s campaign may see the first signs of an early collapse.