Some Thoughts About the Debate

by Veronique de Rugy

Listening to the debate last night, I thought it was interesting to see that both candidates found so much common ground on the issue of foreign policy. While President Obama spent a lot of time trying to paint Governor Romney as someone who would take the country in a different direction abroad, it wasn’t clear to me that he succeeded. The two men have very different visions for America, and talk about the country in very different ways, but when it boils down to policy, their differences aren’t significant.

But also clear during this debate, like the two previous debates, was the way the president talked as if he had not been in power for the last four years. Maybe most striking was Obama’s closing remarks, in which he delivered pretty much the same arguments and made the same promises he did in 2008.

Of course, some may say that sticking to old promises is a sign of the president’s consistency in contrast to Romney. However, as Reason’s Peter Suderman notes this morning, a look at the last four years and this presidential campaign reveals that Obama has out-flip-flopped Romney. He writes:

From time to time he has straightforwardly reversed himself — explicitly flipping his position, for example, on the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, which he campaigned against in 2008, and later alternately declaring that the mandate both is and is not a tax

Most of the time, however, Obama’s reversals have taken a different form. Rather than openly reversing himself like Romney, Obama declares his position on a matter, fails to follow through with actions that support that position, and then when questioned about it insists that his position has not changed.

You can see this pattern on display on a whole host of issues. For example, the deficit. Obama promised to cut the annual budget deficit in half by the end of his first time. Instead, he took a $1.186 trillion deficit, increased it to about $1.4 trillion, then finally dropped it down about 8 percent below the original tally. Yet as Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner has noted, even as the annual deficits repeatedly clocked in in at well above the trillion dollar mark, Obama continued to insist that his administration was on track to make good on his promise. “We are on the path to cutting our deficits in half,” he said in 2010. “When I took office, I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term,” he said. “Our budget meets that pledge and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade.” Needless to say, it wasn’t.

Suderman lists plenty more areas of flip-flopping by the president, such as federal raids on medical marijuana clinics (which have increased during his first term over the Bush years) and other undelivered health-care-reform promises. So much for consistency, then.

That leads me something I thought was missing from the debate last night: There was no mention of the War on Drugs. Considering the level of violence in Mexico and in other parts of the world (including some cities in the U.S.) linked directly to the drug trade, considering the failure of the U.S. government’s policy in this area, and the prominent role that the United States has played, it would make sense to spend some time talking about it. Both candidates should have been asked their position on the subject, and whether they have any plans to end a policy that has destroyed and continues to destroy the lives of millions of people in America and abroad, and has had a great budgetary cost. What a missed opportunity.

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