Well, last night was the wrap up to the debates for this election cycle and the candidates last chance to sit face to face and bury barbs in each other much like a matador would do to a bull. However, this debate, which should have been just as substantial as the last two was always going to be the red-headed step child of the debates. For one, it was the last debate, people who had watched the first or the first and second were less than likely to watch the third unless they’re real political junkies like we are. Two, the debate was over foreign policy, which no, is not a debate over illegal immigration, which is a real question I was asked. That leads me to believe that most people out there either don’t know or don’t care that much about foreign policy except for when it leads us to war or back out of one. For those reasons this one just wasn’t as important in the minds of the people.
I will say though, having watched the debate, the candidates attempted to skewer each other with much less vehemence than they did in the second debate which really saved me a lot of grief because I was kind of there for the foreign policy and not the snarky jabs at each other. Both candidates performed well, there were few minor blunders by either candidate and no major blunders to speak of. That little fact was more important for Governor Romney, but I’ll get to that point in a minute. There were some great, fantastic, lines generated by both candidates that I think they can use in the coming days as they hit the campaign trail one last time to fight for the state of Ohio, which is apparently ground zero for this election.
The first real great line came from Romney when talking about terrorism, the death of Bin Laden, and the dismantling of Al Qaeda, when he said, “…we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” Bravo sir. Brilliantly spoken, eloquently delivered, the military understands exactly what you mean I think, and it shows you understand foreign policy is more than just a display of American might and projection of force.
The President’s big line came during the debate over the size and scope of the military. When the governor complained we were cutting it too small and reducing it to the smallest size since WWI the President countered with, “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Obama said. “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 under water, nuclear submarines…” Wow. That horses and bayonets line was probably his best zinger of the night. I know it probably got the most play.
But realistically did the President do what he set out to do for the debate. I thought, as did many others, that he controlled the debate rather well. I think he actually won it, by a small percentage based on the depth of his arguments. Now remember he has had a four-year crash course in foreign policy whereas Romney has none, so the debate should have gone his way. If Romney had out argued him with no real foreign policy, and no being governor and working internationally with foreign olympic committees does not give you national foreign policy, then I think there would be much more scrambling today in the President’s camp. He was expected to win this one and he did. What he did not do was deliver the knock out punch.
In order to gain any substantial ground going into the last two weeks of the election he would have had to portray Romney as someone who either didn’t understand, was very one dimensional and that dimension was war and conflict, or have the bearing of a Commander-in-Chief. Well, he didn’t, wasn’t able to do that. Romney came off as knowledgable as he could for someone not in the position of power, he was very careful with his rhetoric, and throughout the election cycle has looked damn near regal and not nearly so stiff. This was not the debate President Obama wanted. His shellacking in the first debate, the one on economics, nearly killed him. The independents who tuned out after that first one already went against him, and went against him in a big way. The ones who stayed on the subsequent debates may look at his performance in the last two and consider him, or they may look back to that first election and see his disconnection and let that drive in their vote. There is probably still a 50-50 chance he loses more that two-thirds of the independents that watched the last two debates, just because he lost the debate on domestic policy and the state of the economy. Why? Because when it all comes down to it people don’t vote for or against foreign intervention or diplomatic relations, no they vote with their pocketbook. Whatever is going to keep them out of the poorhouse and keep the bucks in their wallet will be the policy, person, or idea they vote for. This is why entitlement babies break so heavily in favor of the candidates that offer them expansions of social programs.
The weirdest, most existential moment of the debate, and the biggest gaffe, came from neither opponent but from the moderator himself. Bob Schieffer, a long time journalist and three-time debate moderator (one in 04 and another in 08 before last night), said Obama bin Laden when he clearly meant to say Osama. Not that this hasn’t been done before, but during a Presidential debate? I cringe, it was the worst thing possible for a moderator, who up until that point, had done an excellent, exceptional job moderating the event. He changed the phrase into Obama’s bin Laden, but yeah all of America watching saw you screw the pooch on that one Bob, and we like the Presidential candidates, forgive you. It happens, we move on, it was an accident. The fact that neither candidate had a visible reaction to the name, that’s some good facial control. I nearly lost it at home.
That in a nutshell was the third debate, well fought, small win tactically for the President, larger strategic win overall for the Governor over the course of the debates. The only thing to do now is get the pot of coffee and my election map ready for two weeks from now, that and some chicken wings and my election party will be ready to go. Happy voting all.