The Gaffe That Got Away


Ahhhh, debate. Nothing like two veritable Ciceros going at it for the good of democracy. And what could be more Athenian (to mix our empires a little) than watching such nuanced discourse with one of the many drinking games the Internet has to offer…

Had you followed such a regimen at last week’s debate, you probably would have ended up stone-cold sober. "Bain" didn’t rate a mention; neither did "47 per cent" or "Romneycare". What we did get, funnily enough, was a half-decent discussion on differing approaches to government.

It’s easy to be cynical about such events, but give the Americans points for insisting on three separate 90-minute debates on prime time television to give their candidates an opportunity to distinguish themselves from one another.

Last week’s show in Denver did indeed present a reasonable amount of contrast. At times, the debate felt more like a discussion on the relative merits of liberalism and economic neoliberalism, as both candidates sparred over the role of government.

Predictably, most of this discussion centered around healthcare, with Romney touting "competition in the Medicare world" as a way of reducing insurance costs for Americans, while Obama cautioned against "putting seniors at the mercy of those insurance companies".

"The private market and individual responsibility always work best," Romney declared later, a bold statement in a country still reeling from the effects of the GFC.

The gaffe that no one noticed
I saw my first post-debate campaign commercial in Indiana, a state that Obama carried in 2008 that is largely expected to go red again next month.

Entitled "Trust", the Obama campaign commercial took issue with Romney’s claim that his tax plan would cost $5 trillion.

Obama actually made good work out of Romney’s tax plan during the debate (it was probably his only bright spot), but I’ve been surprised that no one on the Democrat side seems to have jumped on Romney response to Obama’s claim that he wants to eliminate tax breaks for companies "that are shipping jobs overseas".

"You said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas. Look, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant," Romney quipped.

The remark could and should have been a disaster for two reasons.

First, Romney needs to put as much distance between himself and the concept of offshoring as possible, so even referring to himself in the first person after Obama’s statement was risky.

Second, and more importantly, the "accountant" quip carries an implication that Romney would have shipped even more jobs overseas during his time at Bain if he had discovered a loophole to make the practice more profitable.

And yet, the remark seemed to largely escape the notice of the mainstream media and the Obama team.

One scribe from the New Yorker suggested a few replies that Obama might have fired back at Romney ("I don’t know, Governor, based on what we know about the rate of taxes you pay, you might want to keep that accountant"), but like most of the debate’s opportunities, Obama seemed content for it to sail by.

Pardon my zinger
A shame, really, because even the more politically-seasoned among us still look forward to a good "zinger".

A report in the lead-up to the debate claimed that Romney and his team had prepared a list of "zingers" for possible use in the debate. It probably won’t be confirmed until some campaign aide’s diary is published, but one imagines that this line was one that Romney had loaded in the chamber:

"Mr President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts."


Article of the week

For anyone who thinks that my analysis is too ingrained.

Video of the week

Clutching at straws a little.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.