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Five Things Progressives Should Watch For In 2012's First Presidential Debate

Obama and Romney won't spar over liberal voters, but we will be watching.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at last stand face-to-face Wednesday to duel for the White House in the first of a trio of debates just 33 days before American voters decide their fates.


There is only one big political story in America today and it is tonight’s first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Just about everywhere you look you’ll will find lists of questions that voters or pundits want answered, advice for both sides, analyses of which voters need to be convinced—and predictions of who’ll win.

It’s probably safe to say that neither candidate will be trying to win over progressives, as most liberals—at least in swing states—are seen as voting for Obama. But there are likely to be themes and issues that go right to the heart of what most progressives see as the role of government, who and what is deserving of federal attention, how public priorities get paid for, and whether the candidates understand what’s really going on in America.

What follows is a survey of questions and concerns raised by a range of opinion-shaping websites. This is political backseat driving. Nobody knows whether Obama or Romney will stray from their public personas, say something spontaneous or controversial, or disappoint their base—even as both sides will predictably declare that they won.

So let’s go through some suggested questions, advice and wishful thinking. The debate begins at 9 PM Eastern standard time, focuses on domestic issues, and consists of six 15-minute segments that start with a single question. The second debate splits the agenda between domestic and foreign policy. The third debate is all on foreign policy.

1. Let’s Hear Some Specifics.

There is no doubt that each candidate’s record or statements on the federal budget, taxes, entitlements like Medicare and Obamacare will be parsed, as the Washington Post notes in debate questions that they suggest get hurled at each side. But the real question is whether viewers will start hearing some specifics, especially from Romney.

The Post suggests the moderator push Romney for being evasive about how he’d reduce the federal deficit—by demanding he say what programs he’d cut, what tax loopholes he’d end or keep, who he’d spare from the GOP’s budget knife. They suggest that the moderator push Obama for not doing enough to revive the economy, create jobs, cut federal spending, etc. On the other side of the country, The Los Angeles Times’ first question would be how will the next president get anything done if a divided Congress refuses to compromise on the most important issues facing the nation?

2. Let’s Address Economic Anxieties

A very grounded counterpoint to these political inside-ball questions is from polling done by, of all places, WalMart, who has surveyed women with kids under 18 who shop at the megastore. Their website,, says this important swing voter block is trying to tune out political ads while waiting to hear what the candidates say on the economy, education and healthcare. This is intriguing because virtually every poll says that Obama’s biggest strength is conveying that he feels the anxiety generated by a weak economy, while Romney doesn’t telegraph that sense on middle-class concerns.

These women say the economy is not getting better—which hurts Obama. But Romney’s suggestions for school vouchers (that would hurt public schools), the Republican Party’s Platform call to bring banks back into the college loan business, and Romney’s pledge to undo Obamacare is not exactly comforting either.

Jennifer Granholm, the former Democratic Michigan governor and now Current TV host suggests a line of questions that might help these WalMart moms decide, and also would go a long way toward answering progressive’s questions about what Romney would do. Her questions go beyond the details to reveal whether each man, particularly Romney, can be trusted.

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