Plan-Meets-Need

Don’t know how many of you debated in high school or college (I did, though not all that well), but two things that I recall from the mists of time which might be relevant to a presidential debate are (1) the importance for affirmative teams of establishing that their “plan” meets the “need” established in their primary case for change, and (2) authorities for various assertions of fact were accepted rather liberally, and refuted more by quantity than by quality.

What with the post-factual trends of contemporary politics, presidential debates are perhaps beginning to resemble their scholastic versions insofar as the key thing is to throw some authority out there whether it is reliable or not. Thus, when Barack Obama cites today’s Washington Post fact-checking piece thoroughly trashing Mitt Romney regular claim that his “five-point-plan” will create 12 million jobs over four years, Mitt will come back with some shabby counter-authority–maybe a conservative op-ed or blog post, maybe an internal campaign document–and muddy the waters enough to blunt the attack.

But Romney’s also got a plan-meets-need problem with this and other aspects of his agenda. One prop of the Romney “plan’s” job claims is actually based on current energy policies. So Obama can simply say “the same numbers apply to my own policies, according to your own sources.” Similarly he can pledge to get tough with China, another supposed job-creator. And there is zero question Obama will use Romney’s own words to argue that his tax plan–the biggest bogus job-creator of them all–hasn’t even been drafted, since Romney insists the details will be worked out in negotiations with Congress. On top of everything else, Obama has very credible authority (Moody’s Analytics) for saying that current policies–i.e., his own–would create the self-same 12 million jobs without the various risks associated with a Romney presidency.

True, Obama’s case will be stronger if he offers a “counter-plan”–an intelligible second-term agenda–but he does not need to get down in the numbers weeds with Mendacious Mitt to throw cold water on Romney’s supposed jobs plan, or suggest that Romney’s real agenda is focused elsewhere.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.