There was not much new ground covered on the policy issues that weren’t argued about at the prior two debates, but the third debate was definitely the most lively one so far. I’ll do a separate post on Dent’s health care comments, since there’s a lot of intellectual garbage to clean up there, and keep this one mostly to observations.
I thought Callahan turned in a much stronger performance at this debate than the others. I always hear that he’s a competitive guy, but I didn’t really see that come out at the other two debates like I did this time. He delivered his remarks authoritatively, didn’t get thrown off by Dent’s interrupting, and drove home the core argument he needed to – that Dent supported the Bush policies that caused the recession, and he is offering more of the same impotent job growth we had under Bush. He sounded confident and seemed much more well-prepared to rebut attacks on his record and the Democrats’ record.
Callahan definitely succeeded in ruffling Dent, who came off as snippy in a few heated exchanges – most notably over the failure to hold banks accountable on bonuses and golden parachutes as a condition of the bailout, and especially over his vote for electricity deregulation. He insisted that it created more choice and competition and would lower costs over time, but even Rob Vaughn had to interject that people’s electric bills are definitely higher as a result of the vote. Dent’s arguments were unconvincing and he got pissy and tried to change the subject to national energy policy instead.
It was remarkable that Dent also went to bat for the Chamber of Commerce and “Business Organizations” so many times. At one point he whined that Barack Obama was being mean to the Chamber of Commerce for flooding our elections with shadowy corporate money to elect Republicans, and absurdly claimed that Obama’s mean rhetoric about Wall Street is actually the reason businesses are not spending. This hardens my view that Congressmen should be required to pass an economics class before taking office.
I think the most notable moment in the debate came when Dent, explaining why he wants to repeal the healthcare bill, listed the 1099 provision as a policy we should repeal, since it would create too much paperwork for small businesses. Callahan pointed out that 1099 repeal came up for a vote, and Dent voted against it. Dent claimed he voted against it because it raised taxes, and the Chamber of Commerce and “business organizations” opposed it. Damn right the Chamber of COmmerce opposed it! Scott Murphy’s 1099 bill ended the tax loophole for corporations who headquarter in the Cayman Islands to get out of paying US taxes. Dent has been complaining about the 1099 provision constantly. After the individual mandate, 1099 repeal has been the centerpiece of his stump speech on health care. But in the end, Dent thought it was more important for multinational corporations to dodge US taxes in the Cayman Islands than it was to help small businesses. What a mensch.
Another favorite moment was when Jake Towne brought up monetary policy and his opposition to the second round of quantitative easing (QE2) the Fed seems likely to undertake. He then tried to get the other candidates to share their views on the Federal Reserve. Dent first tried to say he wasn’t going to get into monetary policy, but then got going and said that he’s opposed to monetizing the debt – printing money to increase inflation and inflate away the debt. But just last week Dent voted to pressure China to let it’s currency appreciate, which would have precisely the same effect as QE2 – lowering the value of the dollar in relation to the renminbi.
The remarkable thing is that Dent then admitted that he does not expect to see inflation any time soon. This is nothing short of an admission that the Republican scaremongering on the deficit is pure crap. If the stimulus spending isn’t creating inflation – which it isn’t, because there is so much excess capacity, and such a large demand for high quality assets like Treasury bonds – then the short-term debt is not an issue.
I thought Jake Towne really held his own despite being a less-experienced politician. I was impressed with his public speaking skills at both debates, but especially this one. He didn’t get as much time to talk as the other two candidates, but I think that’s partly because Rob Vaughn was accommodating about letting the candidates ramble over into issues they wanted to talk about. Jake’s monetary policy question was good, and I also thought he did a good job of representing the real conservative base position on Social Security, calling it a Ponzi scheme that should be phased out. Hopefully conservative activists are taking note that Dent is too scared to admit he even supports private retirement accounts, let alone privatization or a full-on phaseout. Towne also proposed an income tax holiday, which I imagine would be a big hit with Tea Party activists. Jake said at the previous debate that he supports eliminating the income tax. Both of the major party candidates avoided engaging with some of these more exotic positions.