Romney's Meek Agreement Tour
President Obama solidly won the debate on the issues and in stage presence, sounding measured, extremely well-informed and decisive, while Romney sweated his way through a series of concurrences with the president, occasionally punctuated by random factoids, empty assertions and some more of his trademark bickering over the rules and semantics. However, in a debate about foreign policy, which (judgments aside) is a secondary or tertiary concern for most people, the question is whether Monday’s Moderate Mitt roadshow will be enough to cover up the bad taste George W. Bush left for so many voters (and the bad policymakers George W. Bush left for a Romney administration).
The president was clearly the commander-in-chief and conducted himself as such. Romney had to avoid being the crusader-in-chief, which forced him into joining the president on almost every major theme, from Iran sanctions to leaving Afghanistan in 2014, leaving the two men to battle over such critical issues as who visited Israel first and the ship count of the U.S. Navy.
In what will become the enduring sound bite from the debate, Obama blasted Romney’s either asinine, political (shipbuilding is a major industry in swing-state Virginia) or both criticism that the Navy has its least amount of ships since World War I:
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
This amazing bit of condescension only confirmed my theory that these two presidential candidates really dislike each other, probably more than any opponents since the union was reunited. Really though, does Mitt actually believe that the Navy of 1916 was superior to the Navy of 2012? I’ll match his famous $10,000 wager if he really feels that way, and I’ll even lay three carriers and two subs. Mitt has just the guy to take that bet—his Israel hand, Sheldon “Red” Adelson.
As an observer with a rooting interest, I am pleased with the way the debate went, but if this particular event represents the foreign policy priorities and interests of the American people, we should be concerned that our electorate and political observers have such large blind spots in an increasingly connected world.
First off, we learned the entire world consists of China, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya (which Romney didn’t even bother pawing at this time), Egypt, Mali and the one indispensable nation, America. That’s it; that’s the list.
Europe was hardly mentioned at all, even though its leaders just days ago announced that they are moving toward a common banking supervisor. This will not only have a huge long-term impact on global financial markets, but may well be the first step toward something resembling a United States of Europe. Romney only touched on the continent when making his ridiculous analogy that America’s debt means the country is on track to becoming Greece. Based on bond yields, the free market disagrees with Mitt, although if he takes a hacksaw to social programs and retools the economy around shipbuilding, we just might be on that path.
Despite both candidates jumping over each other to proclaim their love for supporting democracy worldwide, there was no discussion about India (the world’s largest democracy), Japan (the world’s weirdest democracy) or Brazil (the world’s sexiest democracy).
There was also the (sadly predictable) omission of the Mexican Drug War, which has ratcheted up in recent weeks as outgoing president Felipe Calderón looks for a few more scalps to put on his legacy. Cartel violence in Mexico (brought to you by insatiable American demand—so buy local artisan drugs if you can) is responsible for such heartwarming things as 193 people massacred less than 100 miles from Texas, which is a real national security concern for Americans living in places like the Rio Grande Valley and Southern Arizona.
Obviously a foreign policy debate held in Boca Raton was going to be very pro-Israel and Middle East-centric, but it was almost as if Palestinians did not exist. The sad political truth is that there was no upside for either man to bring them up, but it would have been nice if moderator Bob Schieffer asked.
One of the worst moments was when Obama and Romney went back and forth on who had a more authentic visit to Israel. This had all the charm of two hipsters fighting over who first discovered some overpriced trendy attitude farm in Venice or Silver Lake.
Bob did better than his War of 1812 battalion mate Jim Lehrer, but he disappeared for long stretches and didn’t take the dialogue anywhere interesting or revealing, and Obama’s growing confidence as the questions were asked and he had the answers already mastered showed. I like exchange rate conversations more than most people with friends, but most Americans were falling asleep as the candidates argued over Chinese tire imports and trade deficits. As long as they can buy a lead toaster at Walmart for five bucks, they don’t care.
In the scariest non-Josh Romney moment of the night, Mitt’s most enthusiastic endorsement of any Obama policy was on the president’s extensive use of drones. I am one of those voters to whom civil liberties is one of the highest priority issues, and as much as I may disagree with the president’s heavy-handed use of drones and his “kill list” that has included American citizens, Romney’s answer effectively nullifies the argument for voting for the challenger based on this issue. If the Republican nominee was Ron Paul, this could be a wedge issue, but Mitt Romney would only be worse. Drone warfare is here to stay.
President Obama’s confident performance, getting his opponent to agree with him on the big issues and smacking him down on the small ones, propelled him to a decisive win in what was billed as the foreign policy debate. If only there was an actual debate on American foreign policy. Don’t hold your horses.
Read more of Neon Tommy’s coverage of the presidential debates here.
Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.