Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Horses, Bayonets and Maybe a Bad Clam

On Mon., Oct. 22, the third presidential debate took place on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Florida. The topics covered were supposed to be about foreign policy.

Perhaps some Mitt Romney supporters would say otherwise, but I suspect it will be remembered as the Horses and Bayonets Debate. 

After each of his three debate moderator predecessors were much criticized for their performances, Bob Schieffer of CBS News did a solid job as the questioner and referee. He allowed both debaters to wander, which included forays into what sounded like domestic policy areas, but Schieffer eventually called time on them, to change subjects when it seemed appropriate.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I scored it this way: Barack Obama won seven rounds, Romney won two rounds, with six rounds even.

The two instant polls I've looked at today found in Obama’s favor, too: CBS had it Obama 53 percent, Romney 23 percent; CNN had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 40 percent.

Romney landed some punches on Pakistan and future threats. But his decision to agree with so many of his opponent’s policies didn’t earn him better than a draw in too many rounds. Romney even broke some news, along those lines: He now supports the 2014 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. After all his previous criticism of the strategy of announcing an end date, who knew?

At times Romney looked decidedly uncomfortable, too, which is never a good thing in a presidential debate. In this category, Romney looked about as bad as Obama did in the first debate, but in a different way.

In Denver, Obama appeared passive and aloof. In Boca Raton, Romney looked like he had eaten a bad clam. 

Obama scored well on Libya, America’s role in the world, Israel, Iran, bin Laden and the auto industry. At times Obama schooled his opponent. For instance, when Romney chided Obama about the Navy having fewer ships than in World War I that’s when Obama lowered the boom:

“Governor,” said Obama, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

Then the president went on to point out how the modern Navy’s capability hasn’t got much to do with having more or less ships than 95 years ago. In other words, comparing the power of nuclear submarines to WWI class battleships is strictly apples and oranges.

The exchange made Romney look particularly foolish. Obama obviously enjoyed twisting the bayonet. 

Obama stunned Romney when he brought up the president's “apology tour,” suggesting that Obama's popularity abroad is a sign of weakness. Obama promptly labeled that assertion the “biggest whopper” of the campaign. 

Which brought to mind the utter strangeness of modern Republican thinking that would have us believe that it’s a strength for an American president to be seen as arrogant and out of touch in as many countries as possible.

Maybe Romney went into this third debate scared of making a gaffe and believing he had a lead to protect. Because rather than hit back when Obama tagged him with sharp jabs, Romney complained about how his opponent was “attacking” him, rather than offering solutions.

Anyway, in several respects Romney was less forceful this time around. Whether it was according to plan or not, Obama was the more aggressive player in the last debate.

Whether winning the last debate will change any minds, at this late date, is debatable.

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