While pundits and Obama supporters were moaning Thursday morning about how Mitt Romney gained momentum by aggressively going after the president in their first debate, fact-checkers were busy sorting out the truth from half-truth from outright inaccuracies.
Romney, it appears, certainly had more swagger, but Obama had stronger command of the facts.
The Republican nominee rejected parts of his own tax plan, denying he intended to increase tax breaks only for the rich. He also failed to respond with details when asked where he would get the money from to cut taxes for all Americans, increase defense spending and not increase the deficit.
His quick answer was he would put more Americans to work in better paying jobs, which would mean more people paying taxes, which would help close the gap.
Romney’s advisers before the debate essentially told him to stick with jabbing the president, tagging Obama with the still struggling aspects of the economy and not get mired down in the details. Leave the policy wonk patter to Obama and appeal to emotion.
Clearly, the plan worked, at least for a night.
Romney insulted the president, likening Obama to children, who may not always be truthful, when trying to get their way.
“Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it, and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that is not the case, all right?”
But there were moments when Romney contradicted the plan on which he and running mate Paul Ryan have campaigned, as well as appearing to reject parts of GOP platform, especially when he said, “I will not reduce the share [of taxes] paid by high-income individuals.”
But Romney’s plan would extend the Bush tax cuts and then reduce tax rates by 20 percent across the board. Of course, that will reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. And while Romney said he wanted to cut taxes for everyone, his plan proposes capping the rate on investment income and cutting the corporate tax rate.
Those moves would primarily benefit the rich.
His proposed across-the-board cuts would reduce tax revenues by $5 trillion, which he said he would offset by eliminating a lot of deductions and loopholes in the tax code, but didn’t specify which ones.
In Wednesday’s debate, Romney admitted that the likelihood of eliminating some tax breaks, like the mortgage interest deduction, probably wouldn’t get past Congress.
So he hadn’t yet figured out what would change in the tax code.
Romney also falsely accused Obama of doubling the deficit.
According to The New York Times, when Obama took office in 2009, the Congressional Budget Office had already projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for the fiscal year which ended in September of that year. It ended up $1.4 trillion.
That was a deficit increase that was in motion before Obama was sworn in.
“For fiscal 2012, which ended last week, the deficit is expected to be $1.1 trillion – just under the level in the year he was inaugurated. Measured as a share of the economy, as economists prefer, the deficit has decline more significantly – from 10.1 percent of the economy’s total output in 2009 to 7.3 percent for 2012,” The Times reported.
And the GOP nominee continued to insist that Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his health care reform plan, even though fact-checking organizations have debunked the assertion.
Romney also claimed that half of the companies supported by Obama’s energy program had gone out of business.
According to the Department of Energy, The Times reported, only three of nearly three dozen companies that received federal loans were facing bankruptcy.
Obama supporters were clearly looking for a stronger counter-punch and that seeming unwillingness to take the fight to an opponent has long been considered the president’s weakness.
In an interview last month, David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said that Obama and the Democrats had not done a good job of making clear how the Romney plan would hurt Americans, especially the poor and people of color, even during Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic Party’s nomination at this year’s convention.
The Democrats, Bositis said, did a terrible job, “including Obama—his worst performance is not taking about how much he’s done…”
Some pundits, however, said that Obama would run the risk of appearing to play the Angry Black Man card if he went after Romney and that could backfire if the president seemed too aggressive.
Obama may have had more of the facts on his side, but it is now up to his advisers and campaign strategists to figure out how to make it look that way, too.
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”