It wasn’t Obama vs. Romney IV, but state Rep. Jim Ward and gubernatorial adviser David Kensinger tried hard to make it that way.
As Wichita State University’s Political Science Club hosted its traditional pre-election surrogate debate, Ward, D-Wichita, stood in for President Obama; Republican nominee Mitt Romney was represented by Kensinger, a political consultant and former chief of staff for Gov. Sam Brownback.
Much of the debate covered familiar ground for those who watched the real candidates face off in their three debates — the economy, jobs, taxes, health care and the deficit were all in play.
And like the real candidates, both debaters had overarching themes they returned to repeatedly in their appeal for votes.
For Ward, the question of the day was “Are we all in this together or go it alone?”
Kensinger’s chief argument was that the president is the chief executive of the country and should be fired for “poor performance” on employment, poverty and the national debt.
“If you were dissatisfied enough with the performance of President Bush 43 that you fired him, by objective measurement, the performance of the 44th president was worse and he in turn then should be fired,” Kensinger said.
Ward acknowledged that Americans have been through tough times. But he blamed Republicans for blocking progress on solving the nation’s problems by setting their top priority as unseating Obama and taking an attitude of “we can’t agree with the president on anything.”
Meanwhile, they simultaneously purged their own party of moderate politicians who might have reached across the aisle, Ward said.
“Many people (Republican members of Congress) who were in the middle of the road were told that your political future is over if you vote for the stimulus, if you work for a long-term budget program that doesn’t voucherize Medicaid.”
Kensinger argued that Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has a “proven record of bipartisan performance.”
“If we agree that debate is the way to move forward and we agree that bipartisanship and spending restraint are what is necessary … I can only offer you as an empiricist … what has happened before. Gov. Romney worked with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, balanced four budgets and helped lead to overall job growth.”
Possibly the most telling clash of the surrogates’ conflicting views came when Kensinger cited the Negro Leagues of the early 20th century as an example of how private-sector entrepreneurship can improve society better than government can.
Barred from the all-white Major League Baseball, black players said “If we can’t play in the major leagues we will build our own,” Kensinger said. “And our own will be so outstanding, the quality of play and profit we generate will force those who respect fair play and excellence — and who wish to maximize their market — to allow us in the game.
“It accomplished complete success, total integration within the world of baseball within two generations and without bloodshed,” Kensinger said. “The answer is entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is most held down by excessive government taxation and regulation.”
Ward, however, said that government involvement was critical in integration, not just in baseball but society itself.
“I don’t think it would have happened without the Civil Rights Act of ’64 and the Voting Rights act of ’65 and a long litany of court decisions that said ‘No, you must include everybody,’ ” Ward said. “And that’s where I think government involvement is very important — not controlling, but saying, ‘No, no, we can’t wait another 100 years for the economy to grow us into equality.’ ”
WSU students who attended the debate split over who they thought won. Consensus was that it was close and some students said Ward and Kensinger put on a better debate than the real candidates had.
Said 19-year-old student Will Amos: “They both used more facts than the actual candidates do.”