Quick hit on the second Latham-Greenwald radio debate

The second radio debate between Becky Greenwald and  Tom Latham just ended. Kudos to KGLO-AM in Mason City for running a much better debate than WHO 1040 in Des Moines did on Monday. The questions by both journalists in the studio and callers were clear, substantive and balanced. I listened to the livestream, but I hope the station will make the audio available on their website (http://www.kgloam.com).

My overall impression was that Greenwald did just what she needed to do in the two radio debates. As I see it, her most important tasks were:

1. Demonstrate that she understands the issues and is able to speak comfortably on a range of topics.

2. Hold Latham accountable for his lockstep Republican voting record and failure to get key problems solved during his 14 years in Congress.

3. Remind voters that the country is on the wrong track, and she will be there to support Barack Obama’s efforts to put it on the right track.

Greenwald succeeded on all of those fronts.

As for Latham, I see his most important objectives for the debates this way:

1. Avoid acting like a jerk or making a big gaffe.

2. Distance himself from the Republican Party and George Bush’s failed policies.

3. Remind voters of his accomplishments as a member of Congress.

Only the first point can be considered a complete success for Latham, in my opinion. He was respectful toward his opponent and did not make any howlers. His answers did plenty to accomplish the second and third tasks, but Greenwald was able to rebut many of his claims during her own responses.

All challengers have to prove that they are “ready for prime time,” and there is no question that Greenwald did so. I share Chase Martyn’s perspective on the first debate; Latham and Greenwald debated as equals.

Greenwald answered the questions fluidly and precisely. In particular, she was very strong on health care, Social Security, Iraq, energy, taxes, and deregulation. She called Latham on his past support for Republican efforts to privatize Social Security. He repeatedly denied supporting “privatization,” but Greenwald pointed out that there is creating personal accounts (which could get decimated in bear market) is tantamount to privatizing a system that currently provides guaranteed benefits. After the jump, you can read a statement the Greenwald campaign issued on Social Security shortly after the debate.

Greenwald did not stumble or become flustered when faced with a hostile question. (This was also apparent during the first debate.) When callers brought up immigration, she talked about the need to enforce the laws for employers and asked why Latham hadn’t done anything to solve this problem before it got to the point of raids in Marshalltown and Postville. In both debates she also mentioned that many people are surprised to learn Postville is in the fourth district, because Congressman Bruce Braley has been so much more active in seeking enforcement of safety, labor and immigration laws with respect to Agriprocessors. Despite Latham’s claim that Greenwald supports “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, she made clear that she is talking about a path to some kind of legal status for employment (not necessarily citizenship), which could involve fines or in some cases returning to the home country to wait in line.

Greenwald’s closing statement hit on her campaign’s most important themes: the country has been going in the wrong direction for eight years, she firmly believes Obama will be elected president, and she wants to be there to help him change our direction.

As in Monday’s debate, Latham used every opportunity to bring up the bailout bill he voted against twice. In fact, I feel he should send House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a thank-you note, because he was clinging to his votes against the bailout like a life raft. Again and again, Latham cited the bailout as proof that he doesn’t always vote with Bush and stands with the little guy against Wall Street corruption.

He also used the bailout answers to claim that he supports better regulation of Wall Street. He blamed Democrats Barney Frank and Chris Dodd for Congress’s failure to better regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That is only a small part of the overall picture, though. For the last 15 years, Republicans in Washington have been pushing for less regulation of corporations and more corporate subsidies, and Latham has been right there with them.

Here’s Latham’s voting record on corporate subsidies.

Here’s Latham’s voting record that relates to government checks on corporate power.

Here’s Latham’s voting record on corporate tax breaks in general (including sub-categories on tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and for the wealthiest individuals).

Latham must be very grateful to be able to talk about the bailout instead of his long record of standing with corporations rather than middle-class taxpayers. Greenwald mentioned Latham’s longstanding support for deregulation, but those matters have received less media attention than this week’s stock market declines, which Latham pointed to as evidence that the bailout failed.

Greenwald brought up provisions in the revised bailout bill that benefit Iowans (those were the additions that brought Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Bruce Braley on board). Latham avoided talking about the details of those “sweeteners” but spoke generally about opposing the Washington-style mentality that if you take a bad bill and add $150 billion in spending to it, it becomes a good bill. That’s probably the best argument he can make for why he voted against a bill containing the wind energy tax credit and tax breaks for flood-damaged businesses.

From where I’m sitting, the bailout was the best card Latham had to play, and he made full use of it. If not for that issue, today’s debate would have been a blowout for Greenwald.

Regarding health care, Latham stated clearly today that he would not support John McCain’s proposal as currently drafted, because it doesn’t address issues such as Medicare reimbursements. Earlier in the week, Greenwald’s campaign, the Iowa Democratic Party, and Americans United for Change had been hammering him on his apparent support for McCain’s plan during Monday’s debate.

In today’s debate, Latham did not mention the problem of insurance companies excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions, which Greenwald mentioned prominently in her answer on health care.

Latham expressed pride in many of the bills he has co-sponsored relating to health care, but Greenwald brought up the big picture, which is that the problems in our health care sector have gotten worse, not better, during Latham’s 14 years in Congress. For 12 of those years, he was in the majority party. Why hasn’t he accomplished more?

As for partisanship, Latham mentioned several times today that the Democratic mayor of Boone is supporting him. Here he tapped into the goodwill that often comes to members who serve on the House Appropriations Committee. I don’t think I heard him embrace any of Obama’s proposals, though.

Latham didn’t return to an argument he made several times in Monday’s debate, which is that Iowa’s Democratic members of Congress have more partisan voting records than he does.

He doesn’t seem to understand that the problem with his lockstep Republican voting record is not that it’s “partisan.” The problem is, the Republican policies he has supported down the line (from the war in Iraq to almost any domestic issue you name) have failed. They have put our country on the wrong track. We need to move in a different direction, and Latham isn’t going to support the change we need.

It’s always hard for me to put myself in the mindset of an undecided voter as I listen to a debate. My impression was that Greenwald helped herself a lot, especially since the voters of the fourth district are very likely to support Obama by a significant margin over McCain.

I don’t think Latham did much today to hurt himself, but I wonder whether his bailout votes will be enough to convince fourth district residents that he has been more than a loyal supporter of the most unpopular president in history.

UPDATE: Greenwald’s statement on Social Security is after the jump.

Once again, Tom Latham denies he supported privatizing Social Security in the KGLO-AM debate today. He said he supports personal accounts, which is another form of privatization.

“I recognize that Social Security will default on its obligations to future retirees unless fundamental reforms are made.  Therefore, I will work and vote for a gradual transition to a system that creates obligatory personally-controlled retirement accounts…” [National Taxpayers Union Questionnaire]

Supported Mandatory Private Accounts in NTU Questionnaire Tom Latham told the National Taxpayer’s Union (NTU), a right-wing organization funded by major corporations, that he supports mandatory private investment of Social Security Fund. Latham took the following position in the NTU’s 2002 candidate questionnaire:

“I recognize that Social Security will default on its obligations to future retirees unless fundamental reforms are made.  Therefore, I will work and vote for a gradual transition to a system that creates obligatory personally-controlled retirement accounts…” NTU, 2002 Survey, Question #5The National Taxpayers Union is a long-standing advocate of privatizing Social Security.  According to the NTU website, “America needn’t rely on hypothetical situations or comparisons to similar plans to prove the worth of privatizing Social Security. In fact, countries throughout the world are in the process of privatizing their social security plans. Those that have completed the transition are currently reaping the benefits of privatization.”   [NTU Policy Paper # 110, 04/07/99

Voted to Spend Every Penny of Social Security Trust Fund. In 2005, Latham voted in favor of a budget conference report that spent $1.1 trillion of the Social Security Trust Fund over five years to pay for other government spending. The budget agreement passed, 214-211. H Con Res 95, Vote #149, 4/28/05

Latham Said Republicans Support Privatizing Social Security In 2001, when asked about privatization of Social Security, “Latham explained Republicans favor an approach that would give citizens an opportunity to invest a small portion of their Social Security account in a variety of managed, diversified funds.” [Northwestern Financial Review, 11/15/01]

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