It may surprise you and even annoy you, but the campaign for 2012 which started somewhere in 2007 is still going on, at least for another two weeks. To help out all those undecided voters across the country make their final choice, Governor Romney and President Obama duked it out one last time in the fourth and final debate of this campaign. All that’s left now is to, you know, run attack adds in swing states and line up lawyers for November 6.
After last week’s roundabout in the town hall debate, yesterday’s debate was a refreshing, calm, though hardly vigorous, debate that was supposed to focus on foreign policy. As with the town hall, the moderators did way with introductory remarks and got straight into asking questions.
Although it was a much covered topic in last week’s debate and the debates before, the first question concerned Libya, not as much the attack on the Embassy, but the revolution that took place there last year.
As we’ve come to expect, the candidates only answered the answers in a very broad sense. Romney talked about “hope and change” (yes, quite) in the Middle East and claimed that America can’t “kill it’s way out” of the problems in the Middle East, but that an increase in foreign aid might help Muslims to reject extremism and thereby make the region a safer place.
Obama on the other hand, did even more his best to ignore the question of Libya and talked about keeping America safe, about Iran and about Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience saying “you haven’t been in a position to execute foreign policy.” It was only after a couple of minutes that a reference to Libya finally slipped into the president’s answer.
Moving further east, on the question of Syria, both candidates seemed to agree on one thing, no American military involvement. In fact, there wasn’t much discussion of any kind about substantive differences. Romney wanted more international involvement, giving weapons to the right people, work with partners to get things done, and Obama just said that well, he had done all of that, they were playing a leadership role and even credited Romney for supporting him on these actions.
The moderator, CBS’ Bob Schieffer, even pressed Romney on what he would do different, or more, in Syria than the president already has, but he couldn’t give an answer, only reiterated that he too would not commit military troops, not even for a no-fly zone.
As the debate turned to more general questions such as, America’s role in the world, the answers grew also more generic, if that was even possible. Romney again made a more liberal approach, talking about responsibility when it comes to human rights’ violations and Obama talked about America being the one indispensable nation in the world. After they got that of their chest, Romney went on to discuss the failing economy and Obama saw the need for better US education as a way to address America’s role in the world.
Eventually, Bob Schieffer wanted to move on, but Romney continued to talk about education before he went on to somewhat domestic policy as the question was raised about the state of the military and Romney’s statements that he wanted to increase military funding.
The issue had already been raised previous debates and Obama again said that Romney’s math didn’t add up, the Pentagon itself didn’t want the increase Romney was proposing and finally, when Romney said there were now less battleships as before and he would increase battleship construction as president, Obama fired back with the most famous line of the night; “There are less battleships in the military, there are also less horses and bayonets than in 1916, we have these things called aircraft carriers now, plans land on them. We have ships that go under water, they’re called submarines.”
The debate, however, continued to focus on economic policy with Romney stating that he knew what it takes to balance budgets and had always balanced budgets, as a businessman and a governor. As such, he would have a balanced budget in eight years from now. Yes, at the end of his second term, Romney will deliver a balanced budget, never mind the first seven years.
On the question of Israel and Iran, both candidates seemed to agree on most things. As with the question of Syria, Obama laid out what he had done in terms of sanctions and deadlines and Romney said he wanted more sanctions and tougher dead/red lines. The president finally said that he got the impression Governor Romney wanted to do everything the same when it came to foreign policy, the only difference being that Romney wanted to “do them louder.”
The lack of difference went even further as the debate focused on Afghanistan. Even though, in the previous debates, Romney slammed Obama for having an exit strategy in 2014, he now agreed that everything was in place, that everything was ready and troops would come home in 2014. More surprisingly perhaps was his statement that “the surge worked.” Another of those things that, according to Romney, hadn’t worked previous to this debate.
Moving even further East to Pakistan, Romney even said that he “didn’t blame the administration for the strained relationship with Pakistan,” and applauded Obama’s use of unmanned drones.
Finally, the debate came round to the Far East with a question about China. As before, Romney said Obama hadn’t been tough enough, with Obama reminding the governor that he had accused him of being too tough on China when bringing trade lawsuits against the country.
In the China debate, both candidates could not resist the urge to talk more about domestic policy with the president hammering on the need for innovation and high tech jobs so that China could keep the low tech ones. Romney made one last attempt and launched the attack on the government’ subsidies of, among others, Solindra, and the failure of said company, but he didn’t get much traction with that argument this time around.
And that set the final tone of the debate. As the polls indicated, Obama scores much better on matters of foreign policy and it showed. Romney struggled to formulate a response, any response to matters of foreign policy that went beyond, ‘the president should have done more, earlier.’ That may be why a lot of the answers didn’t really focus on foreign policy, but more on domestic issues.
As lackluster and unprepared Obama’s performance was in the first debate, a harsh tie in the second, this third one was clearly a win for the president. He had done his homework, zingers included. Which leaves me wondering, in what world does Romney think that he can flip flop, not only during the campaign versus the debates, but also change his positions from one debate to another.
What he should have changed were the points of attack. I mentioned this at the end of the Vice-Presidential debate, but the issues of the apology tour, the failed subsidized companies, they’ve all been debunked by the national media and still they’re running with it as if they were the smoking gun against Obama.
Even as both have won one of the debates, it’s clear that the real winners of these debates are the female moderators. They proved to be much more forceful and engaged than the men.
As millions of Americans have already filled in their absentee ballots or are participating in early voting, also in the swing states such as Ohio, one can predict that in the next two weeks, the attack adds will only increase in those states in the hopes of swaying those few thousands of undecided one way or the other and thereby claim the presidency.
For those who can’t get enough, there is a another presidential debate tonight between third party candidates.