I want to start out by saying, about last night’s debate and about the campaign in general, that we have never—never, absolutely never—seen a candidate like Mitt Romney.
It is amazing to me that President Obama was able to decisively—it wasn’t even close, folks, and the flash polls show it—win the debate, considering what he was up against. How do you debate Sybil? How do you debate someone with multiple personalities, any one of which might appear out of nowhere and then disappear, replaced by yet another? How do you conduct a debate with someone like that?
How do you even prepare for a debate with someone who can convincingly (but only for those low-information voters who don’t pay attention) pretend that whatever he has said prior to the debate he didn’t say? How do you debate someone so willing to abandon the neoconservative philosophy, dangerous to the core, that won him the Republican nomination?
The Mitt Romney who spoke last night, the one who was sitting in that chair getting schooled by the real Commander-in-Chief, was not the tough-talking, warmongering cowboy we have seen on the campaign trail or the one endlessly and falsely criticizing the President’s policies on right-wing TV and radio.
Nope. The Romney who sat there last night actually agreed with just about everything President Obama has done abroad, despite the fact that conservatives, including Romney, have said time and again that the President was “in over his head.” They have said that he has had a disastrous foreign policy, messed everything up, made us weaker before our foreign friends and enemies, and thus made us less safe.
All that was washed away last night as Mitt Romney essentially endorsed President Obama’s handling of world affairs. He agreed with the progress that has been made, agreed with the goals going forward, and tried to piggyback on the Commander-in-Chief’s sober, thoughtful approach. Romney was so much in accord with the President that it made some conservatives nervous. Glenn Beck sarcastically tweeted at a couple of points:
I am glad to know that mitt agrees with Obama so much. No, really. Why vote?…He is not hitting anywhere. Is this to make him not scary? He is scaring me.
Of course, it doesn’t take much to scare Glenn Beck, a little sanity will do the job, but his comment does show that the right-wing’s distrust of their champion is still alive and well.
But more important than Romney’s snuggling up with Obama’s handling of national security and foreign policy, was Mittens’ attempt to agree with the President’s decision to bail out GM and Chrysler. Because Ohio is such a critical battleground state, this part of the debate may actually turn out to have the biggest effect on the outcome of the election, and the President wouldn’t let Romney get away with his lie on this issue.
It came up during a discussion on China, and I will provide an extensive excerpt to show how rattled Romney was:
MR. ROMNEY:…I want a great relationship with China. China can be our partner. But — but that doesn’t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Governor Romney’s right. You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas. And, you know, that’s your right. I mean, that’s how our free market works.
But I’ve made a different bet on American workers. You know, if we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China…
MR. ROMNEY: I just want to take one of those points. Again, attacking me is not talking about an agenda for getting more trade and opening up more jobs in this country. But the president mentioned the auto industry and that somehow I would be in favor of jobs being elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry. My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that. I said they need — these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d — they’d built up.
And fortunately the president picked —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor Romney, that’s not what you said.
MR. ROMNEY: Fortunately, the president — you can take — you can take a look at the op-ed.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, you did not —
MR. ROMNEY: You can take a look at the op-ed.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You did not say that you would provide, Governor, help.
MR. ROMNEY: You know, I’m — I’m still speaking. I said that we would provide guarantees and — and that was what was able to allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy. Under no circumstances would I do anything other than to help this industry get on its feet. And the idea that has been suggested that I would liquidate the industry — of course not. Of course not.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let’s check the record.
MR. ROMNEY: That’s the height of silliness.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let’s — let’s check the record.
MR. ROMNEY: I have never said I would — I would liquidate the industry. I want to keep the industry growing and thriving.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, the people in Detroit don’t forget.
MR. ROMNEY: And — and that’s I have the kind of commitment to make sure that our industries in this country can compete and be successful. We in this country can compete successfully with anyone in the world. And we’re going to. We’re going to have to have a president, however, that doesn’t think that somehow the government investing in — in car companies like Tesla and — and Fisker, making electric battery cars — this is not research, Mr. President. These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn’t basic research. I — I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, the fact of the matter is —
MR. ROMNEY: I’m still speaking.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — (chuckles) —
MR. ROMNEY: So I want to make sure that we make — we make America more competitive —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.
MR. ROMNEY: — and that we do those things that make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses to grow. But your investing in companies doesn’t do that. In fact it makes it less likely for them to come here —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, Governor —
MR. ROMNEY: — because the private sector’s not going to invest in a — in a — in a solar company if —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m happy — I’m — I’m — I’m happy to respond —
MR. ROMNEY: — if you’re investing government money and someone else’s.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You’ve held the floor for a while. The — look, I think anybody out there can check the record. Governor Romney, you keep on trying to, you know, airbrush history here. You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true. They would have gone through a—
MR. ROMNEY: You’re wrong. You’re wrong, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I — no, I am not wrong.
MR. ROMNEY: You’re wrong.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am not wrong. And —
MR. ROMNEY: People can look it up. You’re right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: People will look it up.
MR. ROMNEY: Good.
Of course Romney doesn’t really want folks to look it up. If people spent time looking up things he said, he’d be toast. But we’ll look it up in a minute. First, though, let’s look at what Romney did in this exchange.
Notice how he tried to steer the conversation away from the President’s criticism of his position on the auto bailout. He tried to bring up carmakers Tesla and Fisker and, for God’s sake, Solyndra, the former solar panel maker. That demonstrated Obama had struck a nerve.
But notice, too, that Romney admitted something very important related to the bailout of GM and Chrysler, and all those jobs people now have in Ohio because of that bailout:
Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.
Investing in companies is the wrong way to go, he said. Investing in companies like GM and Chrysler, then, was the wrong way to go. Nothing could be clearer than that, all you folks in Ohio who still have jobs in the auto industry. Romney thought that was “the wrong way to go.”
Now, let’s look up what President Obama wanted us to look up and what Romney hopes we won’t. Let’s look at that famous “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” editorial in The New York Times. The first two sentences of the piece went like this:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.
Hmm. Bailout = end of auto industry. He wrote that. And he wrote,
Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.
Romney tried to argue during last night’s debate that he “would provide guarantees” that would “allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy.” Those guarantees, though, were for private money, for “post-bankruptcy financing,” as he said in the Times article. The problem, as everyone knew at the time, was that there was no post-bankruptcy, private financing available. No one wanted to invest a dime in the companies, which is why the government, if it wanted to save all those jobs, had to step in.
And that is why Romney is having a hard time convincing folks in Ohio and elsewhere, folks who have a paycheck today thanks to the government bailout of the auto industry, that they should trust him with their futures. He got it wrong when it counted most for them.
But Mitt Romney did get one thing right in that op-ed article in The New York Times, although not quite in the way he envisioned it. He said that unless things were done his way—the Romney way—regarding the automakers, “the federal government would…seal their fate with a bailout check.”
Yes, that’s right. The fate of a million, perhaps one and a half million, folks who have jobs today was sealed with that bailout check, a check that a President Romney would never have written.
You got that, Ohio?