October 3, 2012
Transcript of the first presidential debate between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver, The Brutal Times Director’s Cut:
JIM LEHRER: Good evening from my bugged out eyeballs and distortion pedal effected voice and let’s begin with jobs. Who is going to sit through this since the audio is so fucked up?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, thank you very much, Jim, for this opportunity. I feel YouTube shutting off all over the planet. Maybe the New York Times doesn’t know how to set up a microphone. (Laughter.)
MR. LEHRER: Governor Romney, exterminate.
MR. ROMNEY: Thank you, Jim. If you’ll just fast forward to 3:28 it’ll solve that audio problem.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, please respond directly to what the governor just said.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First, I want to compliment Governor Romney on the technology they have there on Romulus, but I’d also like to remind him that we don’t have the technology to fast forward real life moments yet here on Earth.
MR. LEHRER: Governor Romney, do you have a question that you’d like to ask the president directly about something he just said?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, sure. I’d like to ask him how many people he thinks have sat through that audio glitch.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think maybe none.
MR. LEHRER: All right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, can they – can the American people hear us right now?
MR. LEHRER: What is the difference?
MR. ROMNEY: Well —
MR. LEHRER: Let’s just say they can see your arms flapping around but they have no idea what you’re saying.
MR. ROMNEY: But I — but I — right, right.
MR. LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah. Well, but — but —
MR. LEHRER: What is the difference?
MR. ROMNEY: A woman grabbed my arm.
MR. LEHRER: All right, go —
MR. ROMNEY: Look at my hair. Raspy voice. I’m ansty. Number two, (scattered laughter) — but that — that is the case, all right? I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.
And number three, I will not, under any circumstances, cite a study. Middle-income families. There are all these studies out there.
But let’s get to the bottom line. That is, why? And the reason is because I can. Trickle down. Thank you.
MR. LEHRER: All right. Mr. President Obama, respond directly to what Romney said about that uh your trickle down thingy.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, uh, as you can see I’ve gotten much thinner than Romney. That’s the biggest impression. Also, give him something to eat – I think he’s crashing or something. You too, Jim, what’s that fire in your eyes?
For 18 months I’ve been eating pretty much next to nothing, ergo weight loss. If individuals avoid eating or drinking their weight goes down. It’s — it’s math. It’s arithmetic. Race to the top. Slots. Jobs. Teachers.
Now, Governor Romney, I was never beefy to begin with. And the reason this is important is because by doing that, I basically agree with what Romney says about everything, so this debate if you will is much like Bush-Gore back in 1999. You can see where I’m heading…
MR. LEHRER: All right.
MR. ROMNEY: Jim, let me just come back on that — on that point.
MR. LEHRER: Just for the — just for the record – Mr. Obama – were you always so…I dunno…boxy…and wooden? Or is this just like a phase of like Addams Family fashion you’re going for?
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah.
MR. LEHRER: Would you support Addams Family values?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s OK.
MR. LEHRER: No problem. No, you don’t have — you don’t have to answer any questions. No one’s watching at this point.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, I — you may want to move on to another topic, but I would just say this to the American people. I’m sleepy. I think math, common sense and our history shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth.
Look, we’ve tried this — we’ve tried both approaches. And when I say “we”, I mean “me.” I – “Mwe”’ve tried sleeping and not sleeping.
MR. LEHRER: OK. (expletive) —
MR. ROMNEY: I agree with everything the President thinks and says. We’re both boring out of touch business dudes. Only he pretended he wasn’t. Then he tried to just be himself and then when doing that – being boring – didn’t work against uh folks like Swinging John Edwards, he agreed to let himself get swept up in the media illusion that he was another Dr. King or Malcolm X. I mean, listen – our policies are basically the same. Only he looks more tired. So, if history is any judge, I win.
MR. LEHRER: Governor Romney –
MR. ROMNEY: Well, but — but let me just make this comment.
MR. LEHRER: That’s not how it works.
MR. ROMNEY: Let me — let me repeat — let me repeat what I said.
MR. LEHRER: All right. Great googly moogly. Do you see how my face gets all rubbery when you talk over me? God, I’d like a nice cup of tea and some toast.
MR. ROMNEY: It’s just — it’s — we’ve got — we got — when the president took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today. Economic growth this year slower than last year, and last year slower than the year before. Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today.
MR. LEHRER: All right. Someone should point out that if there’s anyone in this room who’s more status quo than you are, I mean, what are you saying, that you’re like suddenly all punk rock or something? I mean, come on.
MR. ROMNEY: Shut up, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Sorry.
MR. ROMNEY: What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test — if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. “Obamacare” is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I like it.
MR. ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. (Laughter.) So I’ll get rid of that. I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one.
Number two, I’ll keep borrowing from China. I want to buy stuff just like everybody else and I want China to lend me the cash. Number three, I’ll do whatever China says. They’re the boss, right? My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way. So that we achieve Chinese Democracy through or – excuse me – by, uh 2015.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President. two minutes.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: When I walked in the Oval Office, I had more than a trillion dollar deficit greeting me, and we know where it came from. Two wars that were paid for on a credit card. Two tax cuts that were not paid for, and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for. And then a massive economic crisis.
And despite that, the gym at the White House was pretty good. I also spent a lot of time out on the golf course and that helped me understand that what I really felt wasn’t so much that I disagreed with what the Republicans had done or what the policies of George W Bush had been or what have you, but that I just like anybody else wanted to be a part of the winning team for a change. And for awhile, I was.
Everything I did in office it’s on a website. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise.
And this is a major difference that Governor Romney and I have.
Let — let me just finish this point because you’re looking for contrast. You know, kids who are with disabilities —
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, I’m sorry — this is boring.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Sorry.
MR. LEHRER: Governor, what about Simpson-Bowles. Will you support Simpson-Balls?
MR. ROMNEY: Simpson-Balls? I dunno. What the hell is that? Some old age pension thing for you and PBS?
MR. LEHRER: No, I mean do you support Simpson-Balls?
MR. ROMNEY: I have my own plan. It’s not the same as Simpson- Balls. Fight for it.
MR. LEHRER: Fight for what?
MR. ROMNEY: My Balls.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President.
MR. ROMNEY: Grab my balls. Make adjustments to them. Fight for them.
MR. LEHRER: Yeah.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: If we’re serious, we’ve got to take a balanced, responsible approach. And by the way, this is not just when it comes to your balls.
We’ve made some adjustments to them. And we’re putting them before Congress right now.
I’ve actually identified how we can do that.
And so if we take a balanced approach, what that then allows us to do is also to help young people, the way we already have during my administration, make sure that they can afford to go to college. It means that the teacher that I met in Las Vegas, partying, wonderful young lady, who describes to me — she’s got 42 kids in her class.
The first two weeks, she’s got them — some of them sitting on the floor until finally they get reassigned. They’re using textbooks that are 10 years old. That is not a recipe for growth; that’s not how America was built. America was built without any textbooks.
MR. ROMNEY: Mr. President, you’ve been president for four years. You’ve got grey hair and you look tired – a shadow of yourself.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.
MR. LEHRER: Did you want to take a moment to make a note of that? You seem to be writing that down.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s – it’s just for my notes. Right now, you get a deduction for getting a plant overseas. Look, I’ve been the president for the last four years so I’m going to have to attack myself.
MR. LEHRER: Let’s —
MR. ROMNEY: But the — the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case. Where I’d like to bring money from overseas back to this country. China has great money. Just beautiful, beautiful money.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.
You know, my grandmother, some of you know, helped to raise me. My grandparents did. My grandfather died awhile back. My grandmother died three days before I was elected president. And she was fiercely independent. She worked her way up, only had a high school education, started as a secretary, ended up being the vice president of a local bank. And she ended up living alone by choice. And the reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare. She had worked all her life, put in this money and understood that there was a basic guarantee, a floor under which she could not go.
And that’s the perspective I bring when I think about what’s called entitlements. You know, the name itself implies some sense of dependency on the part of these folks. These are folks who’ve worked hard, like my grandmother. And there are millions of people out there who are counting on this.
MR. LEHRER: If you’d stopped there and sort of tightened it up you might have actually scored some valid points.
MR. ROMNEY: I’m just going to say something boring. But at least I’ll say it with some energy. Not like I’ve suddenly turned into one of the seniors I’m talking about. All due respect, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President. Do you want to say anything boring?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, I*m going to bury something important in a lecture so that people focus on that and Romney wins.If you — you’re 54 or 55, you might want to listen, because this — this will affect you. What happens is insurance companies are pretty clever at figuring out who are the younger and healthier seniors.
They recruit them leaving the older, sicker seniors in Medicare. And every health care economist who looks at it says over time what’ll happen is the traditional Medicare system will collapse. And then what you’ve got is folks like my grandmother at the mercy of the private insurance system, precisely at the time when they are most in need of decent health care.
So I don’t think vouchers are the right way to go.
MR. LEHRER: Can I – could I just slip out for a tea and a biscuit?
MR. ROMNEY: So that’s — that’s number one.
MR. LEHRER: OK. All right. Somebody – a younger me? – should really call you on this annoying habit – memory trick of numbering all your points – “Number one, number two”, etc.
MR. ROMNEY: Shut up, Jim.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, if I — if I can just respond very quickly, I think it’s OK if you have a biscuit.
MR. LEHRER: We’ll talk about that in a minute.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: — but — but overall I’m OK with you wanting that biscuit.
MR. LEHRER: We’ll get back to you. I think sweet baby wants to talk.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And so — “Sweet baby”?
MR. ROMNEY: Thanks, Jim. And you don’t have to use that honorific, by the way.
MR. LEHRER: No, no, it’s my pleasure.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Uh, can you give me 5 seconds here?
MR. LEHRER: Your 5 seconds is up.
MR. ROMNEY: Absolutely. I’ll elaborate. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you did instead was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote. As a matter of fact, when Massachusetts did something quite extraordinary, elected a Republican senator to stop “Obamacare,” you pushed it through anyway. So entirely on a partisan basis, instead of bringing America together and having a discussion on this important topic, you pushed through something that you and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid thought was the best answer and drove it through.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor Romney said this has to be done on a bipartisan basis. This was a bipartisan idea. In fact, it was a Republican idea.
And Governor Romney, at the beginning of this debate, wrote and said, what we did in Massachusetts could be a model for the nation. In fact, it’s estimated that by repealing “Obamacare,” you’re looking at 50 million people losing health insurance at a time when it’s vitally important.
MR. LEHRER: Sweet Baby, What do you have in mind?
MR. ROMNEY: Let — well, actually — actually it’s — it’s — it’s a lengthy description, but number one, just stop listening now, because I’m going to say something boring. But again, in a more, sort of frantic way than uh, what’s his name over there. In my opinion, the government is not effective in — in bringing down the cost of almost anything. Dut da dut dut diddly doo. Punchline.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: They never show the audience. Is there an audience here tonight? It’s awfully dark and silent out there.
MR. LEHRER: All right, we’re going to move to a —
MR. ROMNEY: No, I — I have to respond to that —
MR. LEHRER: No, but —
MR. ROMNEY: I’m doing good tonight but I’m not perfect. I should remind you of Nixon – look at my shoulders! I’m wound tight! I’m boxed into this boxy suit! Mad Men! The 1950’s! Me!
MR. LEHRER: That is a terrific segue to our next segment, and is the role of government. And let’s see, role of government and it is —looking good. While spewing the crappiest crapola. Am I right?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I definitely think there are differences.
MR. LEHRER: This better be good.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That’s what George W Bush and Cheney said. And as commander in chief, that is something that I’ve worked on and thought about every single day that I’ve been in the Oval Office. Just like them, where it matters most. On the golf course.
But as Keanu Reeves understood, there are also some things we do better together. So I’ve constructed a matrix in which freedom can be managed. Now I’m gonna say some disappointing, uninspiring stuff. While most people would talk about the Civil War as a period of tragedy or heroism, I’m gonna use it to talk about…railroads?!
So in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad. Let’s start the National Academy of Sciences. Let’s start land grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off. That doesn’t restrict people’s freedom; that enhances it. Bush and Cheney believed that too, by the way, just for different reasons.
MR. LEHRER: Two minutes, Governor, on the role of government, your view.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, first, I love great schools. Boring. This is the kind of trite unscripted crud my opponent should nail me for.
The role of government — look behind us: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Look, also, how the New York Times / PBS cameras actually follow my cue and zoom out to show the Constitution and Declaration, albeit in a blurry cut off view, which is, funnily enough, the way I actually see it, too.
The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means the military, second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military. I am destroying Obama here.
Second, in that line that says, we are endowed by our Creator with our rights — I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by — by one another.
We’re a nation that believes we’re all children of the same God. And we care for those that have difficulties — those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that disabled, we care for them. And we look for discovery and innovation, all these thing desired out of the American heart to provide the pursuit of happiness for our citizens.
But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams, and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals. And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view, a — a trickle-down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working.
And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is one out of six people in poverty. The proof of that is we’ve gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. I’ve never seen a food stamp. Most Americans haven’t. At least Americans who vote. And with that, uncontested, I just secured the military, pro-life and religious vote.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Inaudible) —
Governor Romney, I genuinely believe, cares about education. Somehow, Democrats always think they score points in debates by complimenting their Republican opponent, even as that opponent eats them alive. But when he tells a student that, you know, you should borrow money from your parents to go to college, you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle, kids probably who attend University of Denver just don’t have that option.
And for us to be able to make sure that they’ve got that opportunity and they can walk through that door, that is vitally important — not just to those kids. It’s how we’re going to grow this economy over the long term.
MR. LEHRER: We’re running out of time.
MR. ROMNEY: Jim, Jim —
MR. LEHRER: I’m certainly going give you a chance to respond to that. Yes, sir, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: Mr. — Mr. President, you’re entitled, as the president, to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts — (laughter) — all right? I’m — I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on continuing to grow, so I’m not planning on making changes there.
But you make a very good point, which is that the — the place you put your money makes a pretty clear indication of where your heart is. You put $90 billion into — into green jobs. And — and I — look, I’m all in favor of green energy. Ninety billion (dollars) — that — that would have — that would have hired 2 million teachers.
Look, the right course for — for America’s government — we were talking about the role of government — is not to become the economic player picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the health care system that — that has existed in this country for — for a long, long time and has produced the best health records in the world. The best health records in the world? What does that mean? I don’t know. I just made it up. Notice how I tried to rush it out of my mouth when I realized mid-sentence I had accidentally merged a catchphrase “the best in the world” onto something totally disconnected – American health care.
How do we get schools to be more competitive? We don’t. School sucks. It’s a bummer. As has; always will be. Let’s grade them. We already do. But let’s say we don’t. Parents love this. It’s because I care about education for all of our kids.
MR. LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, look — my biscuit –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, I — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think Governor Romney’s going to have a busy first day, because he’s also going to repeal “Obamacare,” which will not be very popular among Democrats as you’re sitting down with them.
But look, my philosophy has been I will take ideas from anybody, Democrat or Republican, as long as they’re advancing the cause of making middle-class families stronger and giving ladders of opportunity into the middle class. That’s how we cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.
That’s how we repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That’s how we ended the war in Iraq, as I promised, and that’s how we’re going to wind down the war in Afghanistan. That’s how we went after al-Qaida and bin Laden.
The fact that I framed these huge accomplishments – killing Bin Laden, ending the war in Iraq, etc., like throwaway things you’d do in an afternoon…basically, I’ll bet you haven’t seen apathy on this scale in a presidential debate since uh, Bush I versus Clinton.
MR. LEHRER: That brings us to closing statements. There was a coin toss. Governor Romney, you won the toss, and you elected to go last. And I won that biscuit.
So you have a closing two minutes, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jim, I want to thank you and I want to thank Governor Romney, because I think this was a terrific debate and I very much appreciate it.
And I want to thank the University of Denver. If anyone is still here.
You know, four years ago we were going through a major crisis, and yet my faith and confidence in the American future is undiminished, even though I, partly through appearance and lack of charisma and partly through real inaction DISAPPOINTED YOU. And the reason is because of its people. Because of random, disconnected anecdotes no one believes whose under 65, like the woman I met in North Carolina who decided at 55 to go back to school because she was deluded, and now has a new job in HR helping people find jobs they’ll never find. Because of the company in Minnesota who was willing to give up salaries and perks for their executives to make sure that they didn’t lay off workers during a recession. The auto workers…people who wear hats…dogs…Romney here…And so the question now is, how did I not prepare at all for this debate. How did I fall so low? How do I look so vunerable? It really is depressing.
You know, four years ago I said that I’m not a perfect man and I wouldn’t be a perfect president. And that’s probably a promise that Governor Romney thinks I’ve kept. Can you believe I’m saying this? Really, begging for a job at a job interview…as a sitting President? But I also promised that I’d fight every single day on behalf of the American people and the middle class and all those who are striving to get in the middle class.
I’ve kept that promise and if you’ll vote for me, then I promise I’ll fight just as hard in a second term.
MR. LEHRER: Sweet Baby, your two-minute closing. Just look into the camera.
MR. ROMNEY: Thank you for the reminder, Jim and Mr. President. And thank you for tuning in this evening. This is a — this is an important election. And I’m concerned about America. I’m concerned about the direction America has been taking over the last four years. I know this is bigger than an election about the two of us as individuals. Or at least, I’d like you to think it is. Politicians always say that. Truth is, you know what Obama will do – just kick back… and then there’ll be some intern scandal in his second year. But me… no matter what ou think now, no matter what impressions I’ve given you, good or bad – creepy, etc. Doesn’t matter. You have no idea what I’ll do. Just look back at previous contenders. Did George W Bush look like a bad guy in his debate with Gore? Not so much, And Obama? He ain’t the guy standing next to me now, old sleepy pants. You thought Obama had some fire back in ’08. Thought he’d change the system. Close Guantanamo, etc and etc. So, forget about us and remember It’s bigger than our respective parties. It’s an election about the course of America — what kind of America do you want to have for yourself and for your children. Middle class children. Unidealistic ones.
There’s no questions in my mind. They’re stressful. Am I right?
And finally, military. If the president’s re-elected, you’ll see dramatic cuts to our military. The secretary of defense has said these would be even devastating. I will not cut our commitment to our military. After the election I might. I will keep America strong and get America’s middle class working again. At The Gap. I want to keep Apple in China.
Thank you, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Thank you, lovey.
Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Aw, you don’t have to call me that.