By GEORGE WILL
WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign, hitherto a plod through a torrent of words tedious beyond words, began to dance in Denver. There a masterfully prepared Mitt Romney completed a trifecta of tasks and unveiled an issue that, because it illustrates contemporary liberalism's repellant essence, can constitute his campaign's closing argument.
Barack Obama, knight of the peevish countenance, illustrated William F. Buckley's axiom that liberals who celebrate tolerance of other views always seem amazed that there are other views. Obama, who is not known as a martyr to the work ethic and might use a teleprompter when ordering lunch, seemed uncomfortable with a format that allowed fluidity of discourse.
His vanity perhaps blinds him to the need to prepare. And to the fact that it is not lese-majeste to require him to defend his campaign ads' dubious assertions with explanations longer than the ads. And to the ample evidence, such as his futile advocacy for Democratic candidates and Obamacare, that his supposed rhetorical gifts are figments of acolytes' imaginations.
Luck is not always the residue of design, and Romney was lucky that the first debate concerned the economy, a subject that to him is a hanging curve ball and to Obama is a dancing knuckleball. The topic helped Romney accomplish three things.
First, recent polls showing him losing were on the verge of becoming self-fulfilling prophesies by discouraging his supporters and inspiriting Obama's. Romney, unleashing his inner wonk about economic matters, probably stabilized public opinion and prevented a rush to judgment as early voting accelerates.
Second, Romney needed to be seen tutoring Obama on such elementary distinctions as that between reducing tax rates (while simultaneously reducing, by means testing, the value of deductions) and reducing revenues, revenues being a function of economic growth, which the rate reductions could stimulate. Third, Romney needed to rivet the attention of the electorate, in which self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals two-to-one, on this choice:
America can be the society it was when it had a spring in its step, a society in which markets — the voluntary collaboration of creative individuals — allocate opportunity.
Or America can remain today's depressed and anxious society of unprecedented stagnation in the fourth year of a faux recovery — a bleak society in which government incompetently allocates resources in pursuit of its perishable certitudes and on behalf of the politically connected.
Late in the debate, when Romney for a third time referred to Obamacare's creation of "an unelected board, appointed board, who are going to decide what kind of [medical] treatment you ought to have," Obama said, "No, it isn't." Oh?
The Independent Payment Advisory Board perfectly illustrates liberalism's itch to remove choices from individuals, and from their elected representatives, and to repose the power to choose in supposed experts liberated from democratic accountability. Beginning in 2014, IPAB would consist of 15 un-elected technocrats whose recommendations for reducing Medicare costs must be enacted by Congress by Aug. 15 of each year. If Congress does not enact them, or other measures achieving the same level of cost containment, IPAB's proposals automatically are transformed from recommendations into law. Without being approved by Congress. Without being signed by the president.
These facts refute Obama's Denver assurance that IPAB "can't make decisions about what treatments are given." It can and will by controlling payments to doctors and hospitals. Hence the emptiness of Obamacare's language that IPAB's proposals "shall not include any recommendation to ration health care."
By Obamacare's terms, Congress can repeal IPAB only during a seven-month window in 2017, and then only by three-fifths majorities in both chambers. After that, the law precludes Congress from ever altering IPAB proposals.
Because IPAB effectively makes law, thereby traducing the separation of powers, and entrenches IPAB in a manner that derogates the powers of future Congresses, it has been well described by a Cato Institute study as "the most anti-constitutional measure ever to pass Congress." But unless and until the Supreme Court — an unreliable guardian — overturns it, IPAB is a harbinger of the "shock and awe statism" (Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' phrase) that is liberalism's prescription for curing the problems supposedly caused by insufficient statism.
Before Denver, Obama's campaign was a protracted exercise in excuse abuse, and the promise that he will stay on the statist course he doggedly defends despite evidence of its futility. After Denver, Romney's campaign should advertise that promise.
George Will, who writes for The Washington Post Writers Group, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.