Opinion: Presidential Debates 2012, Part 3: Did We Really Need to Watch That?

After watching this final debate, my first question to myself was, “do I really need to review that?” The raucous debate took place in Boca Raton, Florida at Lynn University. This is the same city where Romney famously denigrated the “47%” of voters he deemed lazy and incapable of taking personal responsibility for their own lives. In irony, the once haughty Romney sat still in virtual agreement while President Obama served him up a piping hot plate of checkmate casserole. Bob Schieffer, CBS personality, moderated well. But, whoever thought it prudent to have Romney’s final debate be on foreign policy must surely have been a mole for the DNC.

The Middle East

The debate began with a discussion about Libya, Iran, and Syria. While in the second debate Romney clearly disagreed with the President’s handling of the US compound attacks in Benghazi, he seemed restrained on the issue Monday night. Not only that, he seemed to know little about actual policy affecting the Middle East. He spoke in vague platitudes and ambiguous terms like “al-Qaida type individuals” and speaking of the region being in “tumult.” Where many voters were looking for a broad-based militarization forecast and an outline for his plan to get our troops out of Afghanistan, he only offered information we already knew.

For example, Romney explained that America “should have taken a leading role” amongst our allies like the “Turks.”He neglected to mention his stance on Syria besides the fact that he wants to get rid of the “bad guys.” He claimed that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea.” Eerily, Syria and Iran do not share a border. Iran’s south coast is on the Arabian Sea while its northern coast touches the Caspian Sea. Maybe he meant that Syria was Iran’s route to the Mediterranean Sea? Not sure. But one thing is for sure, Romney is not sure either.

Size of the Military and Diplomatic Efforts Globally

This part of the debate got really dicey for Romney. After a bumpy segue through and out of conversations about domestic policy, he began criticizing the size of today’s military. He explained that “our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917.” To which President Obama comically responded, “well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — 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.” And, though President Obama was being intentionally facetious here, the banter highlighted the fact that Romney’s primary complaints about the Navy were dated and out of touch.

To no one’s chagrin, Romney resurrected the term “apology tour.” He attempted to double down on this notion only to have President Obama use the opportunity in his own favor. He responded by outlining a sentimental memory of his travels to Israel visiting with families in war zones. This further undermined Romney’s attack line that the President has sullied important ties with allies around the world.

Similarly, for the first time in the election season, Romney not only accepted but endorsed President Obama’s plan to remove troops from Afghanistan in 2014. He said that the military would be “ready” to withdraw on the President’s timeline. This proclamation was in direct discord with the Romney we’ve seen previously criticizing the President’s timeline to withdraw.

Romney Won on Relations with China

Regarding China, Romney actually seemed to wake up at this point in the debate. He masterfully outlined the issues America continues to have with manufacturing and trade with China. Though American trade is heavily dependent on its relationship with the communist country, the competitive nation continues to undermine American intellectual property laws. On this point, Romney seemed to have a legitimate understanding of the issues. To distract, Obama pivoted away from the issue of China and drew attention to Detroit and the auto industry. Sadly, Romney took the bait. But, he had a brief opportunity to show his business chops and finesse with economic issues.

Quotes of the night:

President Obama:  “Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaida’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not al-Qaida, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Governor Romney: “And our military — we’ve got to strengthen our military long- term. We don’t know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. We — we make decisions today in a military that — that will confront challenges we can’t imagine.”

Governor Romney: “Come on our website, you’ll look at how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years. We do it by getting — by reducing spending in a whole series of programs. By the way, number one I get rid of is ‘Obamacare.’”

President Obama: “And you know, we’ve visited the website quite a bit. And it still doesn’t work.”

Governor Romney: “We have to say to our friends in China, look, you guys are playing aggressively, we understand it, but — but this can’t keep on going. You can’t keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even into the United States.”

President Obama: “You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas. And, you know, that’s your right. I mean, that’s how our free market works.”

On many key issues, Middle East relations, global diplomacy, and the use of drones, Romney positioned himself in symbiotic lockstep with the President. Romney even distanced himself from himself on the Iraq War, Iran, and on President Obama’s actions against Osama bin Laden. If Romney had flexed his muscles on economic issues with China and trade abroad, he might have been able to turn the tables on Obama. But, when given the opportunity, he found himself dissuaded by Obama’s intentional pivoting.

Not surprisingly, pollsters called the debate for Obama. Based on the reduced number of viewers, it seems most people have checked out of the debate cycle. So, it is uncertain what either candidate’s performance will do to help or harm their vote getting potential. All in all though, that’s 1 for Romney and 2 for Obama. And, with no more debates left, let’s hope the persona each candidate presented on Monday was the final impression they were hoping for.

For the full video, see below.

For the full transcript and audio, see here.

For archived debates, see here.

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