A little later, Epstein's remarks sparked another round of booing. ABC News correspondent and debate moderator John Donvan asked him to explain the downsides of infrastructure investment, a central part of the president's plan.
"If you look at this particular statute and the elaborate hoops that you have to go through, it is not a bill which is designed to promote infrastructure," Epstein said. "It is a bill which is designed to make sure that the president's supporters, strong union members, get jobs which will allow them to contribute to the campaign to win."
Epstein's prolix tendencies didn't help either. "Do you know that when you speak, there’s only commas at the end of everything you say?" Donvan quipped at one point. "I was looking for the period to break in, and there were semicolons and dashes and commas."
Mitchell, too, elicited a number of angry audience outbursts, especially after he contended that "people get jobs quicker when unemployment insurance runs out." He even egged on the disgruntled crowd: "Yes, hiss me! Hiss me!"
After the debate, Donvan reflected on Mitchell's debate strategy. "Dan Mitchell's willingness to play the ogre, as he put it, read fun and bold, but I think it didn't help sell the side," he said. He even thought Mitchell and Epstein "presented a more comprehensive argument" than the other team. But it “was also the view from 30,000 feet, and less satisfying for an audience asking for a jobs solution right now.”
Just as Zandi and Rouse argued that Congress can “walk and chew gum at the same time” in reference to a simultaneous focus on long-term and short-term economic policy, the pair was also able to employ two killer debate strategies at once: They nailed the urgency rhetoric while conceding some of the other side’s rational points.
“I do think some of the policy steps have created uncertainty for businesses and for the banking system,” Zandi said. “And that's impaired the ability and willingness of businesses to step up and hire and for banks to lend. But that does not preclude the fact that we need to reduce some of the fiscal restraint that's dead ahead of us. If we don't make some policy steps here, taxes are going to rise on everybody. Unemployment insurance for many hard-pressed households [is] going to expire. And that's the prescription for a recession.”
When I asked Mitchell why he lost after the debate, he told me it was because he was forced to play the villain. "The challenge of defending free markets and limited government is that you're telling people there's no Santa Claus," Mitchell said. "Everyone likes to think that there's some magic wand the government can wave, and especially if you're in a position where you can be pigeonholed as somehow defending the interest of the wealthy, it makes it even harder."
Why did Zandi win? "I thought I was funny," laughed Zandi, who also won an Intelligence Squared debate a few years ago. "I thought that made a big difference, actually."