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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Third Debate: Obama And Romney Sparred Over Ideology, Not Policy

Jaspar Abu-Jaber |
October 22, 2012 | 10:12 p.m. PDT


(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
Goal one: Promote peace.

Goal two: Stand with Israel against all existential threats.

Goal three: Sanction Iran to ensure that they never achieve nuclear capability.

Goal four: Promote our economy, reduce our deficit.

Goal five: Make China play fair.

Goal six: Destroy all terrorists.

Goal seven: Explain why the opposing candidate will fail to achieve any of the previous goals.

During Monday's presidential debate, President Obama noted that Romney often promoted ideas that he himself endorsed as well; only Romney would “say them louder.” Both men were keen to paint a picture of the other as an American-hating economy-destroying incompetent, even as they presented two futures for the country’s foreign policy that differed more by intentions than policy itself.

Neither of them disagreed that they want the United States to retain its influence in the world. The tactic they each used was simply to accuse the other of incompetence. Romney claimed that foreign governments and agencies consider the current administration weak, and questioned its credibility. Obama, in return, asserted that Romney would not be taken seriously by some, asking, “who’s going to be credible to all parties?” But there really was no drastic difference in policy.

The lack of difference stems from the fact that both candidates need to base their policy in reality, and the reality is that a country with the United States’ level of geopolitical power cannot safely alter its attitudes and policy toward other countries with any rapidity. It is as Thomas Jefferson said: “we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

Obama’s arguments against increased military spending were necessarily tempered by the fact that the entire world does not love the United States, and will not, even if it attempts to reduce its worldwide meddling. However, Mitt Romney’s reliance on the Republican standard of ‘Peace through Strength’ has obvious flaws, shortsightedly assuming that the United States can continue to spend unlimited amounts on the military to deter foreign attacks. His refusal to consider cutting military spending makes it difficult to understand how he can reduce the deficit, which he said was one of America’s greatest national security problems.

The United States has struggled to hold onto its self-image as the protector of the world for some time now. No presidential candidate would admit it, but we do not have the same sort of global control as we did in the aftermath of World War II. We cannot continue the policies of the past sixty-odd years indefinitely; we have neither the resources nor the right. Both candidates recognize this. The response seems to have been to spar over ideologies rather than policies.

Neither candidate mentioned Mexico or immigration in the entire debate, and Europe was mentioned only as an ally or a warning of what could happen if the country’s recovery falters further. Romney’s warnings about the ‘rising tide of chaos’ in the Middle East and Obama’s assertion that America is the world’s “one indispensible nation” are little but slogans in existence only to woo voters.

In a campaign season full of deception, lies and negative attacks, this debate fit right in. Voters will now need to decide which will be the lesser of two evils.


Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the 2012 Presidential Debate here.

Reach Contributor Jaspar Abu-Jaber here.



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