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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 4, 2012 at 10:15 AM

You call this an economic debate?

Mitt Romney showed up at the first presidential debate, President Obama didn’t. Like the former private-equity mogul that he is, Romney was willing to say anything to close the deal, whether it was truthful or sincere. Obama was in his passive mode, as if he were still waiting for that one elusive Republican vote in the Senate to pass the Affordable Care Act. The moderator was an embarrassment. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post does a good job unpacking a debate low on specifics, especially from the reborn Republican moderate who did show up.

Aside from Romney’s support for qualified mortgages in Dodd-Frank, neither candidate addressed one of the most critical issues facing the republic: The failure to apply the rule of law to Wall Street and the banking “industry.” Neither called for a 21st century Glass-Steagall. Neither discussed the continued danger the boyz pose to the financial system.

At least we were treated to some sober truth-telling about the economic (and environmental and societal) costs of human-caused climate change and the sensible policy responses required. Oh, wait. That didn’t happen, either. We can have “energy independence” (which means finding a way to keep all the cars running) and the president has been insufficiently solicitous about corporate welfare for greenhouse-gas emitters.

Severe income inequality and the loss of economic mobility weren’t on the table. Lots of blather about loving small business was — except for a lack of demands for tougher anti-trust enforcement and removal of tax preferences for Bain-like acquisitions that cause consolidated industries that kill small business. Did anybody go after the cost of endless war and the Military-Industrial Complex. Obama kept talking about military spending that the generals and admirals didn’t even want. But what if they did want it? We should say no and nation-build at home.

A thoughtful debate on the broken trade situation was not to be found. Going after tax shelters in the Caymans and elsewhere — that would have been impolite, I suppose. Investment in infrastructure? The president kinda likes the idea, but didn’t try to explain its importance. Romney was happy to say he’d defund PBS — wow, that will close the deficit, that’s, what, a day or two in Afghanistan? Big Bird will do fine privatized. Amtrak, which along with transit is a perennial Republican target, won’t (and no transportation system, not even highways survives without government help).

Overall, a disaster. Not so much for the president, who will win or not as he tries to nail Romney’s Jell-o to the wall. The big losers were the American people. The Naked Capitalism blog was not kind:

The reason Obama did poorly is simple. He is bad at governing America. He hasn’t solved the foreclosure crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, the debt crisis, the health care crisis, or really, anything. He can’t point to very much that Americans broadly like, except killing Bin Laden and the auto bailout. His second term agenda is to cut Social Security, Medicare, frack, cut corporate taxes, bust more teachers unions and pass more neoliberal trade agreements. He is proud of this record. So are his people. But he knows he can’t run on it because it’s unpopular, so instead, he presented himself as a nice likeable guy.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

One place got a boost

From Wednesday’s debate snoozer

Gamblers at Intrade

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