Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2012/ 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5773
Show vs. substance
By Paul Greenberg
It was Clausewitz, the military strategist, who famously defined war as politics by other means. Politics in turn could be defined as history determined by other means. For each present political choice tends to come with its own view of the past. It would be hard to find a better example of that tendency than Tuesday night's presidential debate, which was not only a clash of candidates but of pasts. Which explains the competing narratives on display as
Our once and, he surely hopes, future president had a lovely past to narrate -- the story of a great young president who, after the worst economic downturn of this still young century, the worst since the Great Depression, set America aright during the past four years, lifted the economy out of this Great Recession, and put us on this golden course we're enjoying now, getting better every day in every way as we proceed with this Great Recovery.
Now that's the way to write history, or at least rewrite it.
The president's is a beautiful story, grand and uplifting, sweeping and inspiring, complete with brave hero and happy ending. Welcome to the Land of Hope and Change, where history is made to order before your eyes. (Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.) In the president's telling, the past four years acquire a roseate glow.
Sound familiar? Isn't that the way we all see it? If not, maybe the rest of us just experienced a different four years. That doesn't mean the president is lying -- he may just have a different perspective. Maybe he had a better four years than the rest of us.
It was left to the president's challenger to spoil the story by introducing a few of those dull, gray facts that can drain the color from even the brightest of fancies.
The man rolls out facts and figures like a pocket calculator, flooding the conversation with them, as if he were out to transform the historical romance his opponent has just produced into a tragedy by the numbers:
"Well, what you're seeing in this country is 23 million people struggling to find a job. And a lot of them, as you say, Candy, have been out of work for a long, long, long time. ... We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office. If the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when he took office, it's 7.8 percent now. But if you calculated that unemployment rate, taking back the people who dropped out of the workforce, it would be 10.7 percent....
"There are 3.5 million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office. ... How about
"President Obama was right, he said that that was outrageous, to have deficits as high as half a trillion dollars under the Bush years. He was right, but then he put in place deficits twice that size for every one of his four years. And his forecast for the next four years is more deficits almost that large. ... He said that by now we'd have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is and 5.4 percent is 9 million Americans without work. I wasn't the one that said 5.4 percent. This was the president's plan. Didn't get there."
"He said he would have by now put forward a plan to reform
"This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he'd do. He said that he'd cut in half the deficit. He hasn't done that, either. In fact, he doubled it. He said that by now middle-income families would have a reduction in their health insurance premiums by
Enough. Enough! The president's story was better. This one hurts. Give us
But what evidence is there that
"You might say, 'Well, you got an example of when it worked better?' Yeah, in the Reagan Recession where unemployment hit 10.8 percent. Between that period -- the end of that recession and the equivalent of time to today,
The Gipper did it by making tough decisions, risking rather than courting the bubble Popularity, and setting the American economy on one of its longest, most sustained periods of growth in American history. Point made.
Who won Round Two of this year's presidential debates Tuesday night? The verdict isn't as clear as it was after
It was a good, hard-fought match. And quite a contrast in styles. While the president jabbed and feinted, Mr. Romney gave his usual power-point presentation, as if preparing us for a quiz the next morning. (Oh, what fun!)
He went down his five-point list of what he'd do in the Oval Office: Ramp up energy production of all kinds. Expand trade, especially in this hemisphere. Crack down on the way
Given my many biases (free markets and a free press in a free country, just to start with), I imagine I'd be mighty critical of the president's agenda for the next four years. But I can't be, not in good conscience. Given the evidence of Tuesday night's debate, he doesn't have one.
Oh, yes, who won the bout? That's easy:
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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