Pundits largely took two things away from the debate last night: President Obama turned in a lackluster performance, and moderator Jim Lehrer let Mitt Romney walk all over him. A presidential debate moderator's job is not unlike a parent with two squabbling six-year-olds: While it's important to maintain neutrality, it's also necessary to find out which kid is lying about cutting the legs off all the Barbie dolls. Because Lehrer could hardly get a word in last night, let alone call out any questionable truths, we've done it for him: by comparing the statements made by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on "The Whopper Scale." Five Whoppers means that the statement is complete baloney. One means that the statement is kind of tasteless, but basically real: So…like the beef you'll find in fast food restaurants!
The Statement: "Let—well, actually—actually it's— it's—it's a lengthy description, but No. 1, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan."
How Accurate Was It? Coverage for preexisting conditions keeps the most vulnerable Americans from falling through the cracks, and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, without Obamacare, up to 129 million citizens could be denied coverage. Romney, who has repeatedly promised he will repeal Obamacare, is misleading those Americans here. According to Talking Points Memo, even a top Romney adviser implied yesterday that under Romney's plan people with pre-existing medical conditions would likely be unable to purchase insurance.
Number of Whoppers:
The Statement: "[Unlike Obama] We didn't put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive."
How Accurate Was It? Romney didn't go so far as to invoke Sarah Palin's "death panels" in describing Obama's health care plan, but that's essentially what he was referring to. The idea that there is one board to rule them all, which will determine what kind of treatment Medicare patients receive, is false. The board Romney is referring to is the Independent Payments Advisory Board, which, according to PolitiFact, is "forbidden from submitting any recommendation to ration health care" and can't make decisions about individual patients.
Number of Whoppers:
The Statement: Obama said: "The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more [under Romney's tax plan]. Now, that's not my analysis; that's the analysis of economists who have looked at this." And in response, Romney replied: "Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it's completely wrong."
How Accurate Was It? Romney has pointed to these studies before (this time, he added one) in trying to convince the middle class that tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are a good idea. The problem is, these aren't reliable studies. According to the Huffington Post, three of the "studies" are opinion pieces, which are not academic in nature and have an overlapping author. One is paid for by Romney for President Inc. And the last one, an actual study, is being misinterpreted by the Romney campaign.
Number of Whoppers:
The Statement: "I've put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It's on a website. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise. And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for a dollar of additional revenue, paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit."
How Accurate Was It? According to the Washington Post's Fact Checker, "virtually no serious budget analysis agreed with this accounting." Obama's figure includes two questionable sources of income: the bipartisan, $1 trillion budget reduction cleared by Congress last year (which would apply to Romney, if he is elected), and also billions in so-called savings from leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, which, as you'll see next, don't really count.
Number of Whoppers:
The Statement: "I think it's important for us to…take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way."
How Accurate Was It? "The use of this war gimmick is quite troubling," writes Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. As the committee points out, the $850 billion Obama claims the United States is getting by leaving Iraq and Afghanistan hardly amounts to savings: Instead, it's money borrowed from abroad, which needs to paid back with interest. But at the very least, Obama is right that we won't be continuing to funnel money into active conflict zones.
Number of Whoppers?
The Statement: "Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut."
How Accurate Was It? Obama repeated the $5 trillion figure several times, then Romney denied that he even has a tax cut of that scale. So who's right? According to PolitiFact, Obama's figure, which is based on a study done by the Tax Policy Center, is "accurate but misleading." That number includes tax cuts over the next 10 years. And while Romney does have tax cuts of that scale, he theoretically plans to reduce tax breaks to offset the cuts. But the problem is, no one knows how Romney plans to do that exactly.
When a political candidate makes a solid point during a debate, it's a thing of beauty. It is a delicate chemistry of logic, facts, and charm, broadcasted effortlessly into living rooms across America. But then there's the rest of the time. Broken teleprompters. Butchered names. Awkward touching. And neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is immune. In honor of Romney and Obama's first head-to-head presidential debate on Wednesday, let's take a look at the best of the worst of their debates so far.
1. FAILING The Multiple-Choice Abortion Test
Back in 1994, when Mitt Romney was campaigning for Senate against Ted Kennedy, he professed his love of safe, legal abortions. Kennedy's debate retort, delivered here at 0:17, was an instant classic: "I am pro-choice. My opponent is multiple choice."
Asked by John King in a January GOP primary debate if he would follow his father's example in releasing multiple years' worth of personal tax returns, Romney answered with a cryptic grin and a single word: "Maybe!" Judging from his subsequent hemming and hawing and the audience's boos, even conservatives were nonplussed by Mitt's noncommittal answer.
On one hand, Romney's been pretty consistent in his tax return convictions since 2002, as evidenced by this clip from his gubernatorial debate. But on the other hand, your first reaction to the question "Do you have something to hide?" should probably not be the creepy laugh at 0:15 here.
3. YOU BET YOUR LIFE. OR 10 GRAND. WHICHEVER.
Rick Perry knocked Romneycare last December, saying the first run of the Massachusetts governor's book, No Apology, proved he was an Obamacare fan: "You were for individual mandates, my friend." Romney swore it wasn't true. He was willing to put money on it. Just a teeny bit of money. For him.
4. TOUCHING ME, TOUCHING YOU
Then there was the time last October when a debate over Romney's allegedly undocumented gardener turned physical. Spoiler alert: Awkward cackle at 0:23, awkward touching at 0:33. Good thing Rick Perry wasn't armed.
5. The One Where The Gay Vietnam Vet
Gets the Best of Mitt
Okay, so it's not a structured debate, with a moderator and clocks and blinking lights. But in the age-old New England tradition of town hall meetings and gripefests, Romney took the third degree on same-sex marriage last December from a New Hampshire Vietnam veteran who was sitting down to breakfast with his life partner. (You can see the bad moon rising when Romney tries to make small talk—"'66 to '67…I was, let's see, I would've been, ah"—and the vet responds, "Some college kid.")
Romney, parroting his conservative talking points, seems oblivious to the men's relationship: "I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman." The vet, barely containing his outrage, replies: "You have to look a man in the eye to get a good answer. You know what, Governor? Good luck." Ew. Awkward!
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
1. Obama plans to call the president of canada
Obama, who at the time was under fire for his lack of foreign policy experience, made an ill-timed gaffe about our northern neighbor in August 2007. He promised he would try to amend NAFTA by calling "the president of Mexico, the president of Canada." Insert awkward moment where you remember that Canada has a prime minister. And you learned that in high school.
2. change you can xerox
Remember when Hillary Clinton accused Obama of ripping off his speeches from Deval Patrick? Well, in this February 2008 debate, Obama doesn't exactly defend himself; instead, he nonmodestly says his speeches are "pretty good," then changes the subject. Clinton got the real zinger: "Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."
3. the TERRIFYING disappearing teleprompter
Observe President Obama, largely considered to be one of the top presidential orators of all time, melt into a quivering pile of debate team mush when his teleprompter goes out at town hall meeting. He inexplicably decides to go with the "I didn't get enough sleep" excuse.
4. Obama forgets deceased soldier's name
It should have been a touching debate moment: Obama wore a "hero bracelet" commemorating a soldier killed in Iraq. But not only was there controversy over whether Obama was going against the family's wishes by wearing the bracelet, but he seemingly forgot the soldier's name.
5. Obama wins nobel peace prize for…preemptive peace?
Obviously, Obama didn't win the Nobel Peace Prize during a debate, but it was one of the more awkward moments of his early presidency. The New York Times tried to characterize it as the committee's rejection of George W. Bush, but even Obama seemed baffled.
On Sunday, it was widely reported that the number of US service members killed in the 11-year war in Afghanistan had reached 2,000. The latest fatality was an American soldier killed over the weekend in the eastern part of the country, according to the Associated Press. But that statistic hardly gives a complete picture of American losses in Afghanistan.
iCasualtiesThe two sources used in the infographic estimate that the death toll is actually significantly higher. According to iCasualties, an independent group, there have been 2,127 US coalition military deaths from 2001 to October 2, 2012. And according to the Defense Casualty Analysis System (which is where the demographic breakdown comes from) the toll stands at 2,118. These numbers may be higher due to deaths that occurred outside of Afghanistan but were caused by wounds in theater, or indirect deaths that were still related to the mission (for example, suicides.)
The number 2,000 doesn't tell you that an increasing number of these deaths are occurring from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which caused more than half of US fatalities in Afghanistan in 2011. It doesn't reveal anything about the prevalence of "green on blue" attacks, in which rogue Afghan Security Forces kill US soldiers (see the map below). It doesn't say anything about how President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney plan to deal with the logistical aftermath of the war. And it definitely doesn't measure the hurt of families who have lost loved ones.
New America FoundationThis great resource was created by the New America Foundation with the National Security Studies Program. To get the full interactive version of the map, click here.
Image of President Obama courtesy of Flickr User JM Sloan.
Note: The infographic's speech numbers were calculated by looking at Romney's public speeches and Obama's campaign remarks made public by the White House over the last month. The tally does not include the president's "weekly address," and only counts one mention per speech, even if multiple mentions were made. Because Romney may have mentioned the war in additional campaign speeches not publicized by the media, the numbers should be considered a minimum. Regardless, Romney has been criticized for repeatedly failing to mention the war, even in his Republican National Convention speech.
If the election were held today, President Obama would win more than 52 percent of the popular vote, an increase that could be attributed to the release of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video, according to political calculus done by Nate Silver of The New York Times' Five Thirty Eight blog.
Silver charted our Romney video, along with three other events he considers the most important political news of the last month: the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and the attack on the US Consulate in Libya. His conclusion:
By Sept. 17, the date when the video of Mr. Romney’s remarks was released and received widespread attention, the momentum from Mr. Obama’s convention appeared to have stalled (although not necessarily reversed itself). Mr. Obama led in the popular vote by 4.1 percentage points on that date, according to the "now-cast." Since then, however, Mr. Obama has gained further ground in the polls. As of Thursday, he led in the popular vote by 5.7 percentage points in the "now-cast," a gain of 1.6 percentage points since Mr. Romney’s remarks became known to the public.
Silver's chart, below, does not include the effect of the national conventions or economic trends, which makes it useful for looking at the isolated impact of the Romney videos on the 2012 presidential election. Nate Silver, The New York TimesOver the coming weeks, political pundits will likely be interested in seeing an updated version of this chart, as Romney continues to feel the aftershocks of his remarks.
While the media spent this week scrutinizing polls and deconstructing the 47 percent video, President Obama signed an executive order that experts say could stop US tax dollars from funding human trafficking abroad. But does it go far enough?
Obama made the announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative last Tuesday, just after the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. His executive order targets US federal contractors and subcontractors by explicitly creating a zero-tolerence policy for companies that engage in trafficking.
These contractors and subcontractors charge migrant workers exorbitant fees that they must then pay off, essentially placing them in debt bondage. While workers attempt to pay back their hiring fees, they are sometimes confined to horrible living conditions, without their passports. In Baghdad, for example, about 1,000 workers hired by a US subcontractor were stuck in a windowless warehouse for three months without pay.
The order addresses this practice by prohibiting it under Federal Acquisition Regulation, which oversees government purchases. Obama is also bulking up resources for law enforcement, by providing training to police and prosecutors and expanding legal assistance for trafficking victims.
Last year, a bipartisan legislative commission found that US contingency contractors are using US tax dollars flowing into Iraq and Afghanistan to engage in sex and labor trafficking, often without penalty.
"The measures in the executive order represent a good first step towards abolition and the protection of workers who sacrifice by rendering services for the US government," says Sam McCahon, founder of a DC-based law firm that does pro bono work to combat human trafficking.
Obama's order applauded by activists like Nicholas Kristof.McCahon recently worked with Sindhu Kavinamannil, CEO of Compliance Consulting Services, to produce a short documentary on labor trafficking of South Asian workers employed for US contractors in Iraq. He testifed about his findings before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
When asked by Mother Jones whether McCahon thinks Obama's order would have made a difference to the victims in the film, he says: "Yes, [we] could have avoided the victimization and exploitation of tens of thousands of workers who have served on US government contracts in the Middle East and Afghanistan."