“Domestic Policy”

At least one more thought about last night’s debate, if you don’t mind: aside from “the 47%” and Bain Capital, there were a lot of topics most of us expected to hear but didn’t, on a whole host of issues of importance particularly to Democrats, but also to swing voters, where Romney’s positioning is unpopular or at least vulnerable. Matt Yglesias suggests this was baked into the debate cake:

Romney was helped in [his repositioning] by the fact that there was a three-way conspiracy to define “domestic issues” as very narrowly equivalent to tax and budget issues. There was no real talk of the environment, of LGBT equality, of labor unions, of monetary policy, of the regulatory state outside of Dodd-Frank, of immigration, of family life or women’s role in the workforce or any of a host of other issues where it’s difficult to paper over ideological voids. But on the issues they did talk about, Romney succeeded in portraying himself as someone who’s considerably less conservative than John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, or the Mitt Romney who we’ve seen a lot of over the past 18 months.

We are led to believe the Obama campaign had no influence over the structure of the debate, and thus over Lehrer’s narrow framing (which had me describing the debate early on a sounding like an internal discussion at the Simpson-Bowles Commission). But everyone familiar with debating knows there are a variety of techniques for answering a question but then quickly pivoting to the subject you actually want to talk about. And besides, it’s not like there were not plenty of possible connections between most of the undiscussed subjects and the broad topics of the economy, health care, and “role of government.” The last actually could include just about anything.

Of course, to some extent this scenario accurately reflected how Beltway folk have tended to think of “domestic policy” and/or “dealing with the economy” in recent years: it’s all about how you rejigger the tax code to raise revenues without really addressing distribution of the tax burden, and how you address “entitlement reform.” It would have been refreshing, though, to hear Obama go beyond ritualistic pledges of loyalty to the middle class and address more of the “domestic issues” they care about at least as much as the deficit or tax policy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.