Domestic and foreign policy are slated to head the list of talking points during the debates between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential debates, the first one scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. (Eastern). And most likely taxes and the economy will be part of the economic dialogue.
But with all the politcal pundits out there poised, post debate, to pounce on the points they most want to emphasize, the main question is, Will the debates clarify, or further cloud, the economic picture for voters, and muddy the choice for which candidate looks best in that picture frame?
Perhaps the degree of clarity vs. cloudiness will depend more on the pundits' analyses of what the candidates said rather than on what messages the voters take away from the debates before the media “rephrase” the candidates' responses.
If you really scout the news reports, whether televised, online, or in print, an image of an unbalanced press begins to emerge.
Take for example the media's demand for 'more specifics' from candidate Mitt Romney while accepting vague references from President Barack Obama about how he plans to achieve his goals. Did the media demand Mr. Obama's tax returns the way they have hounded Mitt Romney? Did the media delve into President Obama's religious persuasion the way they sought to dissect Romney's Mormon faith? Does the media, even today, call for President Obama to detail his strategies for reducing the deficit, reducing the unemployment numbers, addressing issues of Medicare reform and dealing with the overall economic sludge the country has been sucked into?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie clearly sees the imbalance, as he stated during an interview on Face the Nation last Sunday. When asked about Romney not providing details about how he is going to fix the economy, Gov. Christie called for fairness.
“Let's hold the president to the same standard [for specifics].... How's [President Obama] going to create a million new manufacturing jobs? He hasn't told anybody the specifics of that. How's he going to reduce $4 trillion in debt? We're still waiting to hear what he thinks about Simpson-Bowles, which he commissioned. I mean, he's been the president, and hasn't given us specifics . So let's be fair here."
According to many polls, the economy is the single most important issue facing this country. But with the media generating conflicting views about the candidates' positions so far, it seems that the public may be left with as fuzzy a picture after the debates as prior to them.
But some, like Gov. Christie, have confidence in the people's ability to interpret for themselves the stance each candidate takes on specific issues.
“Nobody will be filtering...or spinning [the message],” said Christie, exposing the media's inclination to reinterpret the meaning behind the messages.
As a stauch supporter of Mr. Romney, Gov. Christie seems to be single-handedly trying to unveil the unfair way the media is covering the candidates.
“[The president] starts off by not telling the truth...saying Gov. Romney wants more tax cuts for the rich....Gov. Romney says over and over again the rich will not pay less under his tax plan."
But just how well does the average American grasp the country's tax system anyway? Would details really matter? Aside from mathematicians, accountants, and tax experts, who really has a solid grasp of exactly who will benefit from either candidate's position on taxes?
The facts are not always the facts, it seems. Voters will have to do their own homework by tuning into the debates – all of them – and analyze for themselves what the candidates are saying, being fully aware of potential biases resulting from the media's interpretations.
Expecting either candidate to fully explain, in point-by-point detail, their strategies for fixing the economy may be unrealistic, given each debate is only 90 minutes. But viewers who listen should be able to draw their own conclusions, without the 'filtering' and 'spinning' by the media.
After all, could you explain how the tax system works, let alone how to fix it in 90 minutes? Or deal with how to control health care costs in a 15-minute segment?
Maybe now's a good time for us to head to library and scout out reference material on income taxes for dummies, how free markets operate, capitalism, and how well do socialist countries manage?