A Few Observations

by Benjamin Zycher

For whatever they’re worth:

1. I did not think that the president did as badly as most other observers seem to believe, but he did not do well, and Mr. Romney, while a bit inarticulate at times, did very well. I would imagine that many swing voters were moved in his direction by last night’s discussion.

2. I doubt that more Obama ads arguing that (a) Romney/Ryan/the Republicans want children to die from pollution and that (b) families should be left to suffer alone so that tax cuts for the rich can be financed will work after Romney’s performance. Obama cannot defend his record; what will his campaign do? My guess: They will promote the racism and Mormon cards ever harder. Mr Obama — no Bill Clinton in a Sister Souljah sense — in my view will not prove sufficiently nimble or wise to criticize such tactics.

3. Can it possibly be the case that the Obama camp does not understand — ARITHMETIC! — that lowering marginal tax rates and reducing distortions would expand the aggregate pie, and thus the tax base? The ARITHMETIC! argument implicitly denies this; given that the ultimate effect of a tax reform is complex, and that estimates of the revenue effects are heavily dependent upon modeling assumptions, the ARITHMETIC! argument in truth is fundamentally incorrect. Mr. Romney was not particularly articulate on this, but I think that he got the point across when he talked about more workers earning higher wages and paying more taxes, etc.

4. Mr. Romney made a mistake when he said that nothing like such a reform has been done before, or words to that effect as I recall. (If I have this wrong, please let me know.) When this issue arises again, as it surely will, he should simply point to the 1986 tax reform, which was a lowering of rates combined with the elimination/reduction of numerous tax preferences. Revenues increased, as did taxes paid by the wealthy, absolutely and as proportions of income and total taxes paid. This was the result of Ronald Reagan working with both sides of the aisle in Congress.

5. I think in a larger context that Mr. Obama’s poor performance is the result of the reality that the modern Left simply does not know what it does not know. James Taranto is correct: The failure of most of the White House press corps to press Mr. Obama has served him very badly. Senator Rob Portman is a deeply thoughtful, knowledgeable, and experienced man, and his central contribution to Mr. Romney’s preparation for the debate was obvious. On the Obama side, the Left’s idea of a deep thinker is John Kerry. ’Nuff said.

6. Finally: I think that the Obama camp has a real problem in terms of preparation for the next debate. Should he come out guns ablazing?  My sense is that Romney’s temperament is such that attacks will not faze him. Should Obama come out cool, as he (sort of) did last night? That did not work very well. Given that Mr. Romney can be predicted to arrive on stage well prepared in terms of facts and analysis, the president will have to defend his record. No easy task.

— Benjamin Zycher is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.