Too much coverage of meaningless debate gestures
by Daniel Gaddy
Oct 18, 2012 | 926 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Daniel Gaddy
Daniel Gaddy
As much as it makes me sound like a latte-sipping liberal, I was listening to National Public Radio on Wednesday and heard an earth-shatteringly enlightened quote.

It was from historian Jill LePore, who wrote about America's first political consulting firm, which set its sights against California's 1933 gubernatorial candidate Upton Sinclair (who was also the muckraking author of “The Jungle”).

LePore said the company, which was formed by a husband-and-wife team, would inadvertently become the model for the industry of lies we call modern political campaigns. It became so influential because its two founders knew one simple fact about politics: if you have to explain an issue, you've already lost.

"You either have to put on a fight or put on a show," LePore told NPR's "On the Media" about the couple’s philosophy.

Those words encapsulated a feeling I think many Americans have: The feeling that during the debates, the campaigns and the press have focused more on the body language of the candidates — the dirty glances, the interruptions, the note scribblings — than actual policy ideas.

Talking heads have analyzed Biden's weird smile, Romney's "binder full of women" and even the amount of water Ryan drank during the event. They've also speculated about how all these things will influence the magical unicorns we call undecided voters — about what combination of meaningless phrases and gestures will get this swath of the electorate to pull the lever like a lab rat.

To give the national media some credit, there has been a push toward real-time fact-checking at the debates lately. That should be the rule not the exception, though.

And, ultimately, Americans must occasionally agree on the facts for it to do any good.

Take Romney's tax plan for example. Obama has said again and again at the debates that Romney's tax policy includes a $5 trillion tax cut. Romney fervently denies it.

Though Romney has said he will not reduce the share of taxes paid by top-income earners, the foundation of his tax plan is a 20 percent cut for all taxpayers. Those cuts will equal about $4.8 trillion over a period of 10 years.

Romney says he will offset that number by eliminating deductions — and just the deductions for the rich folks, too. That, I'm assuming, is how he can say the top earners’ SHARE of taxes will not decrease.

The only problem is there are not enough deductions for upper-income tax brackets to offset that $4.8 trillion. And to make it deficit neutral, as Romney claims, he would have to start digging into some pretty popular deductions for the middle class: like the child tax credit, the home mortgage interest deduction and the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance.

Non-partisan think tanks like the Tax Policy Center say that it’s mathematically impossible to do all that Romney claims in his plan.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Romney will cut those sacred deductions for the middle class. What he will do, I think, is throw the costs of those cuts onto the national debt. He wouldn’t be the first Republican president to do it.

I know there are a ton of people who still think what I just wrote is complete hogwash, and no matter how many fact-checking organizations or policy centers I cite they will never believe me. And I know the undecided voters who will choose our next president either don't care to look into this stuff or are overwhelmed by the number of pundits all using their own facts. I'm trying to come to terms with that sad fact.

But as long as the American public is relentlessly jabbering about this election, as long as billions are spent prognosticating the outcome, can Americans at least agree to talk about something more substantive than the color of a candidate's tie and what it MEANS to undecided voters.

Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at