According to a CNN poll taken in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s debate, 67% of respondents said that Romney came out on top in the first head to head showdown
I agree. And here’s how he did it:
1. Body Language
Before I begin, let me make something clear. I was getting pretty annoyed at the many articles being churned out in the days leading up to the debate preaching the importance of body language. But the way that Romney and the President handled themselves on stage was quite different, and it did have an impact on the results.
From the beginning, Romney was on the attack, and whenever he attacked the President, he would engage him directly, looking straight at Obama, attempting to make eye contact. Yet, he found this difficult, mainly because Obama spent most of his time looking down at his podium, shaking his head. The President’s body language throughout the debate was like a 90-minute eye-roll.
Obama looked how most of us would after having to do his job for the past three and a half years – tired and disinterested in political games. But unfortunately for him, the political games are just starting up.
2. The Devil is in the Details
While Romney criticized Obama for the current state of the US economy, a measurement that many feel reflects the President’s job performance, Obama’s attacks were mainly directed towards the vagueness of Romney’s plans.
These are valid criticisms. Romney’s plan for governance is similar to that of many Presidential candidates who have not yet sat in the Oval Office. It goes something like:
“On day one I’m going to sit down, take a look at all of the government programs in existence, and decide which ones should stay and which should go.”
Although this really isn’t an answer at all, it’s still very effective when bundled with broad rhetoric. And last night, Romney was a master at conveying this broad rhetoric.
Romney did not win the debate because of some new plan, but because he expertly articulated a primer on Conservatism.
Alright time for me to be less objective.
I’m quite liberal, but I’m of the opinion that in a better, more perfect world, Conservatism and small government is the way to go. I feel like deep down, most people believe this, and the way Romney outlined his ideas of small government just seemed right, even if they weren’t
Think about it.
Doesn’t it sound more appealing to live in a country where government does not have to intervene in our lives? A country where everyone can succeed by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Would America not be a better place if we could all pay less taxes? Have more choice when it comes to healthcare and job training programs? Don’t we want a military that is the strongest in the world and capable of protecting our interests abroad?
Romney told the American people that when he takes office, he will lower taxes, close the deficit, and strengthen our military. In a perfect world, all of that would be great.
Except for the fact that the devil is in the details. What Romney plans to do is… well… I don’t want to say mathematically impossible. But it’s pretty much mathematically impossible. The President said so last night, but again, he didn’t explain it very convincingly. I’ll try my best:
This pie chart is our total budget and what we spent it on in 2011. We spent ~$3.6 trillion, and we took in ~$2.3 trillion in revenues.
That left us with a $1.3 trillion deficit. Alright, so lets assume Romney has to cut a $1.3 trillion dollar deficit per year.
Well first off, before we subtract, lets add. Romney has gone on record (and did not deny it when Obama mentioned it in the debate), that he would like to strengthen our military by increasing military spending by $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years. While it would increase steadily every year, for the sake of simplicity, he wants to increase the defense budget by an average of $210 billion per year.
In fairness to Romney, this increase is an estimated figure based on his plan to tie military spending to 4% of GDP (In 2004, while we were just getting going on our second war, it was around 3.8%). As GDP grows, revenue should naturally grow, so some of that blow is cushioned. I’m going to be extremely generous and only assume Romney’s military plans will only add $150 billion to the deficit every year.
So now we’re at a $1.45 trillion deficit. And since Romney made it clear at the debate that he would not raise revenues, he must close the gap entirely through spending cuts. Romney would disagree with this. He argues, like most conservatives, that you can actually raise revenues by cutting taxes. If people have to pay less to the government, they have more to invest, and therefore will make more money to give to the government the next year.
This is a nice theory – and on a small scale it is found to be true. But there is no empirical evidence I can find that proves this actually is significant enough to actually raise revenues. Typically it just softens the blow of lowering revenues a bit. Take a look at this chart of US outlays (spending) and receipts (revenue) over the past 50 years. Keep in mind that tax cuts were enacted in 1981, 1986, 2001, and 2003, with a tax increase in 1993.
If anyone can find empirical economic evidence that this phenomenon of increased revenues from lower rates exists, please send it to me. Until that happens, I have to work with the facts I have.
Alright so $1.45 trillion, lets cut it.
When asked what he would cut, Romney has responded several times with the answer:
“Is the program so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to fund?” Cause if it’s not, he’ll cut it.
These programs that Romney is talking about are all the programs that comprise our non-defense discretionary spending. In 2011, we spent $646 billion on non-defense discretionary spending.
So, essentially what this means is that even if Romney wanted to cut every single government program that isn’t defense or entitlement spending, that would only chip $646 billion off the near $1.45 trillion deficit.
Alright. So now we have practically no federal government, and he still has an $800 billion deficit to close.
Let’s take a look at the pie chart again and see where we can cut it.
He can’t do anything about the interest and mandatory spending so that’s 19% that’s not going anywhere. He also won’t cut Defense, so there’s another 19% that’s not moving. All that’s left is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He has said that he wants to save money by sending Medicaid to the states to run. But that also means transferring the revenue to states that the federal government uses to fund Medicaid. So in a sense this would shrink the overall budget, but not the deficit. Let’s be extremely generous and assume that states actually would run it a ton more efficiently, and it somehow saves $100 billion per year.
We still have $700 billion.
Romney has said that he won’t touch Social Security and Medicare for seniors near retirement. So maybe in the future, he could take that $700 billion from entitlement programs (a move he accused Obama of doing last night), but where would the short term savings come from?
It just doesn’t add up.
But… but… Romney did so well at the debate. He was more Presidential, he articulated his points better, and his plan seemed so solid. It seemed like common sense.
Sure it sounded great, but it just doesn’t add up. Maybe I’m missing something, but the sum of Romney’s plans (closing the deficit, not raising taxes, increasing military spending, and not changing entitlements in the short term) add up to a mathematical impossibility. The devil is in the details.
The way I see it, even if nearly every government program is gutted, we cannot close the deficit without both spending cuts and selective tax increases. If I’m wrong, please let me know. Regardless of what your ideal vision for America is, everyone should really sit down and do the math for yourself before casting your vote.
- Michael Clauw