60 MinutesOnce upon a time, 60 Minutes did actual journalism. Last night, they devoted their episode to interviews with President Obama and Mitt Romney. It wasn't terrible. I thought that the Obama interview was the more aggressive of the two. But it was clear why this was: Romney isn't up to a probing interview. I don't think that Republicans realize just how much affirmative action they benefit from in the form of false equivalence, softball questions, and low expectation.

I thought that Steve Kroft asked some good questions of Obama. In particular, he went after the President on the mortgage refinance program that has be disappointing. What was not so great was Kroft's dismissive attitude. His reaction shots seemed very disrespectful to me—like it was another Bill O'Reilly interview.

Although Scott Pelley's interview of Mitt Romney went very easy on the candidate, Romney still came off badly. I thought the most telling exchange occurred when Romney explained that he was going to cut tax rates 20% across the board but somehow make these cuts revenue neutral by closing loopholes and deductions. He went on to say that there would be a net tax cut for the middle class. Pelley pushed on this point, although he never brought up the Tax Policy Center that showed that Romney's plan could not work as he claims. Instead, Pelley asked what specific deductions Romney would end. Romney replied:

It's very much consistent with my experience as a governor which is, if you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them, but you don't hand them a complete document and say, "Here, take this or leave it."

This is a high misleading claim. As Jonathan Chait notes, "How about handing them a complete document and saying, 'I am willing to negotiate'?" What I thought when he said this was, "What about the 20%?" Romney cannot be specific about which deductions he would end or reduce, but he is very specific about how much he would lower the tax rates. I've never seen anyone call him on this.

There was one part of interview where I thought Romney was right. And it isn't new. If you push him hard enough, Romney will admit that he is a Keynesian. He understands that cutting government spending will hurt the economy. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing about Romney: he's smarter than the candidate he plays on television.

Here Pelley asks Romney why shrinking the federal government on a large scale wouldn't hurt the economy:

Well, the—the plan I have to—to go after the deficit and to shrink federal spending is metered out in a very careful way, such that we don't have a huge drop off with an austerity program that puts people out of work in government. But instead, through attrition, over time, we scale back the number of federal workers so I'm—I'm very careful in the way I do this.

This is the correct answer! Ding ding ding! Romney wins a prize!

But there is a dark side to this. One of Romney's big talking points is that the government can't create jobs. Given that he understands that losing government jobs will hurt the economy, he must know that adding government jobs will help the economy. So even when Romney provides an honest and well thought out economic policy idea, it only shows how willfully ridiculous the rest of his policy ideas are.

The 60 Minutes interviews contained no new information. I suppose they are good to have because most people haven't been following the campaign over the last three years. But the episode allowed Romney especially to give talking points that were never countered. The old 60 Minutes that I remember would have cut away after Romney stonewalled on the deductions in his tax plan, "However, the Tax Policy Center has shown that there are not enough deductions to cut that would leave the taxes on the rich unchanged. What's more, this study found that far from lower taxes on the middle class, Romney's plan would raise them."

Those were the days.

Update (24 September 2012 9:11 am)

There were several other things that were repellent about Romney in this interview. One was that he claimed that the uninsured do have healthcare—all they have to do is wait for a heart attack and then go to the emergency room. What were you thinking, Mitt?! You left your top hat and monocle at home! He also noted that he should only pay a 15% tax rate because his money has already been taxed at the corporate level. This is wrong; I hope to write about it later.

Update (24 September 2012 11:10 pm)

In Mitt Romney got one thing right, then President Obama got one thing very wrong: Obama's Plan on 60 Minutes.