Obama, Romney Twist Two Crucial Issues in First Debate

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Near the end of his forceful performance in Wednesday presidential debate, Mitt Romney borrowed a memorable one-liner from Daniel Patrick Moynihan. “As President,” he told Barack Obama, “you’re entitled to your airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.” But Moynihan’s old adage (“you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts”) is badly outdated. In TIME’s new cover story this week, Michael Scherer explains how the two presidential campaigns are operating in separate realities, tailoring their rhetoric and statistics to supporters inclined to trust their side’s claims and disbelieve the other’s. The casualty is vital context, if not truth itself.

This phenomenon played out Wednesday night, when both Romney and Obama chided each other for twisting the truth even as they played fast and loose with the facts themselves. Armed with statistics and abstruse studies, the two presidential candidates traded accusations for 90 minutes, often letting the falsehoods fly or misrepresenting each other’s positions. There are plenty of examples, but it’s worth zeroing in on two policy areas that dominated the debate: taxes and health care.

(MORE: Mark Halperin: Grading the Debaters)

Obama called Romney’s tax proposal as a “$5 trillion tax cut,” a characterization that he has used on the campaign trail to highlight the tax break Romney would give the wealthy. This is somewhat misleading. Romney’s plan would cut marginal tax rates for all Americans by 20%, not just the wealthy. In addition, Obama cited a study, written by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, that suggested Romney’s plan would raise rates on middle-class families by an average of some $2,000 per year–a point Romney protested, noting that “other studies” have contested the claim.

(PHOTOSPolitical Photos of the Week, Sept. 20-27)

Notwithstanding the challenge of squeezing reams of facts into brief debate answers, neither candidate is telling the whole truth here. The studies Romney cited were critical of the Tax Policy Center analysis, but part of their gripe was that Romney had provided insufficient details for his plan to be properly analyzed. Romney hasn’t filled in the fine print. The objection to his plan is that it can’t possibly balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing the defense budget. Romney has said he’ll accomplish this by closing unspecified loopholes in the tax code, and the study argues the only way to do this is by cutting perks that disproportionately benefit the middle class, such as the mortgage-interest deduction. But this is informed speculation, which is not the same as a fact. For Obama to suggest otherwise is something of a reach.

(MORE: Viewpoint: Romney’s Convincing Performance)

Romney unfurled a bigger whopper on health care, repeating a charge he has used widely on the campaign trail: that the President has cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. On the trail, Romney has used phrases like “gut” and “rob”; on stage in Denver, he was more measured. But he is still stretching the facts to appeal to supporters and independents who are suspicious of Obama’s landmark health-care reforms. Obamacare does not cut money from Medicare’s budget. Nor does it cut services or benefits in Medicare. Instead, it slightly reduces the growth in Medicare spending, savings which add up over time.

In addition, Obamacare augments Medicare in certain ways, such as by offering free preventive care and better prescription drug coverage. Obama’s reforms do reduce Medicare spending over time, but they do not fundamentally reshape the program — and certainly not to the degree that the “premium support” (or voucher) system Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, advocate. In fact, Ryan’s own budget blueprint, which was adopted with the overwhelming support of the Republican-controlled House, maintained those same $700 billion in cuts. (Romney has said that unlike Ryan, he would reinstate those funds into the program.)

These are nuanced issues, not ones easily unpacked for swing voters sitting on their couches. It’s a reasonable bet that the television audience will be as swayed in the candidates’ mien and delivery as the details of their respective policy agendas. But the point, as TIME’s cover story notes, is that neither candidate pays any penalty for his subtle deceptions. Which is why both breezily fudge the facts while accusing the other of doing the same.

POLL: Which Candidate Is More Truthful?

MORE: Special GOP Issue: Party of No

97 comments
BenevoIent  Lawyer
BenevoIent Lawyer

I urge all REAL AMERICANS to join the Mormons in their continuing fast in support of Romney.  Fasting is an important self-mortifying form of prayer, and God responds to those who humble themselves before Him.

FAST and Pray for Romney's election.

nvrtalk
nvrtalk

Mitt was honest as long as you heard all the conditionals. He would not propose a tax cut which adds to the deficit. 

The result of a $5trillion tax cut is $5trillion less in government services. 

Presidents Obama's mistake was not inviting Romney to continue to list all the government programs he plans on cutting. allowing him to  stop at PBS funding is not describing all $5trillion and Mitt got plenty of flak for what little he mentioned.

Mitt's couple dozen major  financial backers know what Mitt is talking about and it should be fully front and center for the public to make their voting decisions. 

Patrick Coady
Patrick Coady

That Mitt Romney... he's a great bunch of guys!

grape_crush
grape_crush

"Faced with that contrast -- a statistic generated by a non-partisan, widely respected think tank versus an unsupported assertion by a guy essentially asking people to trust him -- who did CNN and FactCheck.org declare had the more factual response?

Mitt Romney."

zrlx
zrlx

Romney's plan sounds nice but acctually he assumes it as a matter of course!

grape_crush
grape_crush

Hard to see how Obama 'twisted' the truth about Romney's 5 trillion tax cut when a) the number is being generated by an independent group of economists and b) Romney has been intentionally vague when it comes to the details.

There's a difference between assessing something based on the available information and then drawing conclusions - which pundits do all the time - and outright lies.

> But this is informed speculation, which is not the same as a fact. For Obama to suggest otherwise is something of a reach.

I'm reading the transcript and I don't see where Obama stated that 5 trillion dollar cut was a 'fact'. Alex, can you point that out?

http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/03/...

bobell
bobell

Alex, Alex. Stop already with the false equivalence.

Romney's rate cuts will take almost 5 trillion out of federal revenues over the next ten years.  If every single tax deduction and preference was eliminiated from the tax code, it still wouldn't make up for all that lost revenue.  And that's on the assumption that the elimination of deductions and preferences applied to everyone, which is the basis for Obama's allegation that Romney would make the taxes on the middle class go up -- the loss of those deductions and preferences would more than overcome the effects of the rate cut.  The Simpson-Bowles plan (you know, the one that Ryan refused to support), which Romney chided Obama for ignoring even as he declared that he himself wouldn't use it, offset its proposed rate cuts, which were smaller than Mitt's, by proposing to eliminate ALL deductions and preferences for everyone.

So how does Romney close the gap?  He assumes that the tax cuts will spur so much growth that the tax base will expand enough to generate the otherwise missng revenue.  That was the assumption behind the Reagan and Bush rate cuts. We know how those turned out. Clinton raised taxes and the country boomed.  I'm not saying that tax cuts have no stimulative effects, but the revenue from the additional economic activity is dwarfed by the revenue sacrificed to the cuts.  (I still think Dubya believed that the additional revenue resulting from the stimulative effect of  his cuts would offset the revenue lost to the cuts themselves. If so, his view was contrary to that or every sane economist in the US.)

On the Medicare front, Romney is simply lying (for a change) when he says that the $ 716 billion in cuts will hurt seniors.  An example I've used before: If you negotiate the price of a new care from the sticker price of $ 30,000 down to $ 25,000, have you "stolen" $ 5,000 from the dealer?  If Obama can get seniors the same benefits at lower cost, he hasn't "stolen" anything from them.  He's simply negotiated a price cut.  The insurance companies have backed the package that included this cut, so where's the injury to seniors?

And I don't believe for a minute that all those doctors who say they will opt out of Medicare if Obama's reforms take effect will actually do so.  It's a bluff. There's too much money to be made off Medicare patients.  I know there are already some doctors who don't take Medicare, and no doubt there will be some more after Obamacare takes full effect and the cuts are phased in, but if there's really competition in the medical marketplace there will be plenty of doctors eager to keep the Medicare revenues coming in.  I recently had to change primary physicians because my guy wouldn't accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield anymore.  Who do you suggest I blame for that?

I was disappointed in Obama's poor showing stylistically, but there's still a wide gulf between his relation to truth and Mitt Romney's.

Dave Ager
Dave Ager

Looks like Obama's got a Number 1 Fan. Obama all the way Imran.

chupkar
chupkar

It's not that nuanced. Romney lies through his teeth and suddenly becomes Mr. Etch a Sketch. Again.

tapdancer330
tapdancer330

Mitt Romney came off as extremely presidential and knocked out a Home Run on a near perfect debate tonight. He was direct, had facts, and laid out his plans..Obama on the other hand struggled- looked weak and annoyed. I'm an independant and found this debate overly helpful..

Zachary David Pressley
Zachary David Pressley

There is no way this country can last with this much blind extreme political ignorance on both sides. Congress can not function because no one will compromise and the public is being pushed and swayed by every false detail and fake truth, this will continue till pressure builds states will take sides and some issue will tear us apart again. civil war, revolution, or collapse. 

Reina Chua
Reina Chua

Obama delivered the best line of the night: "Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret because they’re too good? Is it because somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?"

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

Carla Howell, president of the Massachusetts-based Center for Small Government, is blunt about Romney’s record: “Romney claims to have cut the Massachusetts budget by ‘2 billion.’ Sometimes he claims he cut it ‘3 billion’….but these cuts were merely budget games….not only did Mitt Romney refuse to cut the overall Massachusetts budget, he expanded it.

Dramatically….Romney initiated massive new spending –without any prodding.”

Cori LBere
Cori LBere

Lame system indeed, all the way around, the truth is that not any of this will make a dent in a emp attack, knock your self out guys, you will care only about were you are then, in your dim light!

Sherry Smith
Sherry Smith

Complete bullcrap from an Obama shill.  

Obama lost.  No amount of lies from you will change the outcome of this debate Alex Altman.  Be a man like Joe Klein and tell the truth.  Your "savior" lost tonight.  You lost.  Admit it, and move on and congratulate the winner, Mitt Romney for a job VERY well done.

Norrie McTavish
Norrie McTavish

I'd vote for Obama just because I love his jive walk when he gets up to give a speech. Can't though I'me Scottish ach aye the noo ;-)

Dawnya Hiner
Dawnya Hiner

most people do not even know there are three men running for president.

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

Everyone of these is undeniable. Why does it have to be a Liberal site to point out the obvious? Every news organization should be noting the same information.

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

It utterly ridiculous. They scold Obama for being 'speculative' in criticizing Romney's tax plan but are utterly unwilling to point out that it consists of equal measures horsesh!^ and fairy dust. 

formerlyjamesm
formerlyjamesm

Romney's "facts" were snake oil, the plan is the latest of many.  I question your true "independent" stance.

bobell
bobell

had "facts" -- There, fixed it fer ya.

paulejb
paulejb

Zachery David Pressley,

Many were crooning that same tune in 1980. But then Reagan was elected and all things seemed possible again. 

While Reagan's re-election effort was "Morning in America" in 1984, Barack Hussein Obama's is Mourning in America in 2012.

BenevoIent  Lawyer
BenevoIent Lawyer

Romney will champion energy independence, will approve the Keystone

pipeline and stop the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory war

on coal. Borrowing from his experience in Massachusetts, Romney will

push for more school choice for parents and students, performance pay

for teachers, and, with 3 million skilled jobs going begging, new skills

training for skilled workers.

VOTE ROMNEY!!!

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

Sherry,

Good honest post.

Benevolent,

Lies and BS as usual.

You a conservative? Get real. You're a LW wakco.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

If your comments are anything to go by, you have the mightiest heap of Fcuking  Bull Crap of comments on here, including the stupid one you made to me earlier.

You are an angry, overweight old crow.  Romney stinks, but your hatred of Obama makes you post and re-post nonsense comments and vitriolic drivel. Maybe its because I like PaulieJ, somewhat, but he seems sincere in his unhappiness and misery. However, you, you sound like an angry fat woman frustrated with the world. You should be the face of the Far Right drones, I imagine they all look like you.

ahandout
ahandout

The liberals in the media are all in for Obama. 

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

Paul, I think you have your very strong views about stuff, and are quite miserable most times. You seem perked up today. So that's good. We are optimistic that Obama will be re-elected, I hope you will rejoice with us then, PaulieJ. I intend to do the "Makarena" and "Gangnum Style" dance here (and elsewhere)

I hope you will join us at that time on this SITE  as we all scream together (You are invited Paulie)... "OBAMA WAS RE-ELECTED. THERE  IS A GOD, AND HE LOVES AMERICA"  Yeahhhhhhhh  Good,huh?  :)

grape_crush
grape_crush

> Why does it have to be a Liberal site to point out the obvious? Every news organization should be noting the same information.

Because to the news orgs it's about the fight, not who's in the right.

Because it's prefaced with "ThinkProgress" which allows it to be wrongfully dismissed due to an assumption of bias.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

You are an IDENTITY THIEF and CHILD MOLESTER. STEALING PEOPLE'S IDENTITIES AND COMMITTING ALL MANNER OF ATROCITIES HIDING UNDER ANOTHER PERSONS PSEUDONYM. YOU FELON. YOU SHOULD BE IN PRISON NOT HOUNDING CHILDREN AND OTHER INNOCENTS ON LINE!!

I HOPE THIS SITE WILL GET RID OF YOU. YOU ARE A MENACE.

paulejb
paulejb

Benevolent Lawyer,

Michael Moore✔

@MMFlint

"This is what happens when u pick John Kerry as your debate coach."

The rats are leaving the ship, BL.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

This is such an absurd   Fox News talking point that I hereby appoint you Sean Hannity's Minion for life.

I hear  Hannity's hygiene sucks, so you mighty have a lot of washing and deodorizing to do.  

paulejb
paulejb

Benevolent Lawyer,

I am becoming more convinced that Obama doesn't really want to win. He just seems to be going through the motions to keep the saps sending in the cash. What say you after tonight's debate?