What can you say about Josh Mandel after his second debate with Sherrod Brown in their race for the U.S. Senate? The Ohio treasurer kept his poise, drawing a few noticeable deep breaths yet never rattled, that Marine training on display. He even seized an opening to advise the Democratic incumbent, “Calm down, senator, calm down” — not too long after he called Brown “a liar.”
Then, there was that tiny, fleeting smile that often visited his face after he completed an answer. It usually arrived in the wake of his navigating a lengthy set of talking points.
Joe Hallett of the Columbus Dispatch asked the candidates for specific steps to spur more economic growth. Mandel started by saying he was pleased with the question. He called for simplifying the tax code “for middle class families and small businesses.” He patted himself on the back for independence as he jabbed General Electric for paying nothing in taxes. He then declared, “We need to stop these Wall Street bank bailouts,” arguing that Brown and others “should be ashamed” for supporting something both “fiscally irresponsible” and “morally wrong.”
He wasn’t finished. He championed responsible drilling for oil and gas in Ohio and then delivered his conclusion: “Sherrod Brown has had his chance. He’s been there [Washington] for 20 years, and here today in the state of Ohio 400,000 Ohioans are out of work.”
Smile. A viewer couldn’t help but imagine a bubble over his head reading: Gee, I did it!
That smile surfaced at the end of an answer about his puny experience, another after addressing trade with China and again following a response about the auto bailout.
For his part of the hour, Mandel strung together his assorted points, mixing and matching. He repeatedly accused Brown of “Washington speak,” apparently a reference to saying one thing in Washington and another thing in Ohio — a laughable charge if you’ve listened to Brown. He noted the senator has been seeking office since Richard Nixon was president. Might they one day say Mandel has been running since the presidency of George W. Bush?
Mandel accused Brown of providing the “deciding vote” in a “federal takeover of health care.” On a matter so close, practically every vote is decisive. The Affordable Care Act isn’t a government takeover. It built on the system as it long has been, a blend of public and private health care.
Then again, Mandel has been nabbed on numerous occasions by independent fact-checkers for distortions, exaggerations and fibs, large and small. Worth exploring about this debate, held in Columbus on Thursday evening and televised across the state, is the track of his thinking. It doesn’t always lead in the direction he suggests.
Take the auto rescue. Mandel stated emphatically: “I’m not going to be a bailout senator. Sherrod Brown is a bailout senator.” And if the federal government had not supplied the cash needed for General Motors and Chrysler to operate and restructure through bankruptcy? Well, you can bet Ohio would be looking at far more than the 400,000 people out of work, especially among those middle class families and small businesses Mandel so wants to help.
Mandel has fixed on the plight of salaried workers at Delphi who suffered pension cuts, arguing that Brown somehow did not do enough. Yet here is an example of the tough decisions elected officials are supposed to make. The rescue was painful for many people. It was unpopular in many quarters. Yet it was necessary to land in a better place.
The same goes for the bank bailout, distasteful, maddening, even outrageous, but so essential to preventing a calamity that frightened lawmakers on both sides understood they had no choice but to say yes.
Toward the end of the debate, a question about military base closings arrived, the Mansfield air base already a political football this campaign season. Again, Mandel portrays himself as a fresh face, not part of a “broken” Washington. He shared a story of George Voinovich advising him that all of the battles in Congress would not come down to Republicans versus Democrats. Many clashes would be geographical.
At that point, Mandel pledged “to fight tooth and nail against senators from Alabama and Mississippi and Missouri and California and Texas.” The message? He would do whatever it takes to prevent Ohio from losing military bases and related jobs.
Then came the revealing turn. Mandel wanted the audience to know that he understands as a veteran “there are places outside the state of Ohio where we can save money in defense spending. … ” That’s right: Cut anywhere but here!
In other words, real Washington speak, or why the military base closing commission was created.
All of this was said without a hint from Mandel that he is on to himself. He claimed to have “a lot of tools in my tool belt to stand up to the political bosses in Washington” and “to take on the lobbyists.”
And what might those interest groups expect for the $25 million they have spent on his behalf? That wasn’t in his talking points.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.