THE BIPARTISANSHIP TWO-STEP
I’d look at this comment by Romney to Obama as the culmination of the GOP’s plan over the past four years:
“I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you did instead was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote.”
Got that? Republicans refused to work with you, Mr. President, and that makes you a harsh partisan. Democrats were willing to work with me, and that makes me a bipartisan uniter.
THE FIGHT OVER THE MEDICARE BOARD
Much of the debate between Obama and Romney on health comes down to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the group of experts meant to slow health-care spending in Medicare. Romney doesn’t much like that idea:
“In my opinion, the government is not effective in — in bringing down the cost of almost anything. As a matter of fact, free people and free enterprises trying to find ways to do things better are able to be more effective in bringing down the cost than the government will ever be.”
This gets to one of the very real philosophical and substantive disagreements in the election. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. believe you can save money by capping program spending and handing the dollars over to states or seniors to spend better. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden believe you can save money by capping programs and giving independent experts the freedom to manage them better.
Oddly, the Obama-Biden approach more closely resembles the management consulting that made Romney rich, while the Romney-Ryan approach more closely resembles community organizing.
ROMNEY AND THE REPUBLICANS
Toward the end, Romney talks about how he “had the great experience — (though) it didn’t seem like it at the time — of being elected in a state where my legislature was 87 percent Democrat.” It’s a somewhat irrelevant argument, given that there’s no way Democrats will hold a substantial majority in the House or Senate at the beginning of a Romney presidency, but it was a very smart one for Romney to make. This leads to one of Obama’s better riffs:
Obama: “What’s important is occasionally you’ve got to say no, to — to — to folks both in your own party and in the other party. And, you know, yes, have we had some fights between me and the Republicans when — when they fought back against us reining in the excesses of Wall Street? Absolutely, because that was a fight that needed to be had. When — when we were fighting about whether or not we were going to make sure that Americans had more security with their health insurance and they said no, yes, that was a fight that we needed to have.”
Lehrer: All right.
Obama: “And so part of leadership and governing is both saying what it is that you are for, but also being willing to say no to some things. And I’ve got to tell you, Gov. Romney, when it comes to his own party during the course of this campaign, has not displayed that willingness to say no to some of the more extreme parts of his party.”
It’s such a good riff, in fact, that you wonder why Obama didn’t use it during the first hour and 25 minutes of the debate. Indeed, it’s interesting how little effort Obama expended tying Romney to House Republicans or the Ryan budget or really anything except for a particular price tag for his tax cuts.
Which isn’t to say Romney was particularly thematic in his strategy, either. More so than Obama, he actually stuck pretty tightly to the questions asked of him and focused on delivering clear, appealing answers. He didn’t win through a superior overarching strategy so much as he won by simply doing a better job.
I also don’t think he won by lying. This is a meme that cropped up after the debate, and while Romney did tell a few whoppers — that his health plan covers pre-existing conditions and that half of the green-energy investments made in the stimulus have failed — he mostly danced around the ambiguities in his policies in a way that appeared to confound Obama. Indeed, while Obama’s policies are much more specific than Romney’s, Romney’s performance was much more specific than Obama’s. You saw this in the closing statements, where Obama ended with gauzy generalities and Romney closed by ticking off concrete policy promises.