Horses and Bayonets: Thoughts After the Third 2012 Presidential Debate
(For more commentary, see our extensive post-debate post over at my place.)
I suppose this could down in history as the “horses and bayonet” debate of 2012 — a great line by the president in response to Romney’s stupid assertion that the military is somehow weaker than it was a hundred years ago. It was one of three major “zingers” from Obama — and all worked really well. The others (and I paraphrase):
– You haven’t had a chance to execute foreign policy; and
– We’ve been to the website. The numbers still don’t add up.
Oh, and also:
– Whenever you’ve expressed an opinion, you’ve been wrong.
And this great one:
– You have the foreign policies of the 1980s, the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.
Right on point.
Look, I tend to be a pessimist. And you can read this debate as a “win” for Romney insofar as he didn’t do anything to embarrass himself, unlike last time, and so to arrest his recent surge in the polls, which now essentially show a tie not just nationally but in some key swing states. Just by being up there and talking foreing policy, regardless of what he said, is a sort of triumph for him. And if the main story coming out of tonight is that Romney held his own, that could be interpreted by low-information voters as proof that he’s just as presidential as the president and so worthy of their vote. In other words, his performance might just have secured his position not just as a viable challenger but as a suitable alternative to Obama at a time when, with the economy still struggling, people are open to alternatives.
But, really, he didn’t win. Not even close. Not if you judge the debate by something other than what I discussed in the previous paragraph. And so, if you’re counting at home, it’s now 2-1 for Obama.
Clearly, Romney didn’t want to be there. His discomfort was palpable, except when he was talking about the economy and regurgitating his usual talking points. And his strategy was obvious, given the president’s overwhelming advantage on foreign policy (on MSNBC, John Kerry just said this is the most inexperienced presidential ticket (Romney-Ryan) in history in terms of foreign policy, and of course he’s right): Agree with the president on pretty much everything, throw out a few of the usual lines (like the lie about Obama’s “apology tour” and the accusation that Obama is weakening the military), and pivot wherever possible to the economy.
But Romney seemed not just uncomfortable but unsteady throughout, and his agreement with Obama on pretty much everything just seemed lame. No, he didn’t embarrass himself, but he exposed himself as a charlatan, as remarkably inconsistent (“internal contradictions,” as Rachael Maddow put it, being sort of against the Arab Spring but then supporting democracy in Egypt, for example), as unprepared, unqualified, and unfit for the presidency.
In stark contrast, President Obama was decisive, firm, and, yes, presidential to a degree even beyond what we usually see from him. This was the steady leader at the helm of American foreign policy, the commander-in-chief who understands the world and knows what he’s doing on a wide range of policy areas and challenges facing the U.S. both at home and abroad. He was effective in touting his record, from rescuing the auto industry (which Romney opposed but now says he didn’t) to killing Osama bin Laden (which Romney opposed but now says was great), from ending the Iraq War to working with Israel, and he called Romney out for being wrong, reckless, and inconsistent (not just on foreign policy but on the auto bailout and tax policy), for being “all over the map,” for projecting weakness in foreign policy statements that suggest profound ignorance.
And in siding with the president and refusing to engage on issue after issue, Romney once again exposed himself as someone who will say and do anything for votes, as a shameless panderer whose entire election strategy is to lie to the American people and hope they don’t take notice of your bullshit. It was another “relentless deluge of dishonesty,” as I’ve called it, most notably when he agreed with pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2014 — throughout the campaign, up until tonight, he has opposed setting a date for withdrawal. It was, in other words, a relentlessly cynical performance — and, as usual, you could see it in shifty eyes.
And so far, the polls are backing this up, showing a clear and decisive win for the president.
But will it matter? Maybe not. I’m not sure if any of this will move the needle. But let’s face it, a loss by the president would have been devastating. Instead, he came out with one of the strongest debate performances I’ve ever seen from him, simply overwhelming Romney throughout most of the debate and showing why he fully deserves a second term.