No, Mr. President, Third Time Was Not the Charm

I listened to the debate on my drive home, then viewed parts on TV. President Obama came out swinging and was very strong at first. Mitt Romney seemed nervous and unfocused, flapping rhetorical wings at 30,000 feet with what seemed a string of rather disjointed talking points. Half an hour in, Obama began to dissolve. He overplayed his hand. Rather than conveying strength, he sounded like the challenger desperately trying to score, while Romney found his footing, talking policy as if he were the incumbent. It became clear that Romney was trying to convince voters that he was commander-in-chief material, while Obama was trying to diminish Romney, rather than run on his own record. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review has described it, Romney was a boxer who knows he is ahead and is going for the clinch, while Obama was trying to force him to stand and fight, looking for the roundhouse punch. Romney did not cooperate and eventually began to land punches in a very calculated and precise manner.

 

Obama’s interruptions, condescension and snark were unbecoming a President, another sign that Obama is pinning his hopes on rousing his base, not trying to persuade the “undecided.” Judging by the remarks of the Obama Kool-Aid drinkers among my Facebook connections, that may work with them. But it is a losing strategy. Unlike 2004, this is not a “base election” with a relatively apathetic middle. This is an “ebb election” with a broad swath of voters disappointed from having let themselves be caught up in the Obama wave of 2008, so the base strategy seems politically desperate and an admission of failure. Obama just cannot run on his record. And what’s with the stare? Someone commented that, as the hour wore on, Obama dialed it from death stare to “obliterate a planet” to “Ishtar.” To me, he just appeared exhausted and frustrated that his attacks were not budging Romney from his strategy; hecame across as a spent force politically.

 

That said, both of these guys are painful to hear on matters of foreign policy. Obama and his secretary of state are clearly amateurish and have weakened the U.S. abroad. Foreign leaders simply have no respect for Obama, which is what happens when you start your time by fawning over your enemies and giving your allies the cold shoulder. There was a great line from Romney about Obama’s “live mike” incident promising the Russians greater flexibility after the election.

 

However, in his obviously focus-grouped attempts to be non-offensive, Romney sometimes seemed to out-Obama the President and ended sounding equally clueless about the reality of foreign relations. Romney’s comments on Afghanistan and various Middle Eastern hellholes were simplistic and overly anodyne. Let us hope that, if he is elected, he chooses someone far more competent, knowledgable, and vigorous than himself to be secretary of state, John Bolton perhaps.

 

Some specifics about the President’s remarks. The aircraft carrier and submarine sarcasm was a painful reminder of Obama’s arrogance and lack of substance. Comparing ships to horses and bayonets simply reinforces Obama’s weakness with the military (the sailors and the bayonet-using Marines will see this as gratuitous insults). Moreover, if he really intends to project force overseas, reducing the number of carrier groups and the number of ships (including escorts and submarines) is a problem. The small size of the Navy, even with more sophisticated ships, still results in a weakened force.

 

No, Mr. President, you did not end the Iraq War. The Status of Forces agreement leading to the draw-down was signed by President Bush. At the time, it was expected by both sides that further negotiations would extend the stay, and it was you who ended up scuttling the prospects when you did not even try to negotiate a new proposal with the Iraqi leadership unless the Iraqi Parliament agreed (which was not politically feasible).

 

No, al-Qaeda has not been decimated by you. Osama bin Laden was a symbol by the time he was killed, not an effective strategist or battlefield tactician. Al-Qaeda had been decimated by the war in Iraq, especially through the “Anbar Awakening.” Since your inauguration, al Qaeda has solidified its presence in Somalia, has taken over half of Mali (a previous American ally), taken hold in Eastern Libya, and is active in the anti-Assad, anti-Iran movement in Syria. Meanwhile, Iraq is increasingly violent, and it is suspected that al-Qaeda affiliates are reestablishing themselves there.

 

“The nation. Me…” No, you are not the nation. It sounds better in the original French when someone says that, so do not conflate the two.

 

No, giving the enemy timetables for your withdrawal from Afghanistan when you announce a major military campaign is not good strategy.

 

Yes, Romney did propose government assistance to auto companies after a proper bankruptcy proceeding (which includes reorganizations under Chapter 11, not just liquidations under Chapter 7, though you might not know that as a former law professor and community organizer). By the way, I did not like Romney’s proposal.

 

No, Romney is not proposing $5 T in tax cuts. The tax rate cuts are to be offset by limitations of deductions. I think that there are serious problems with Romney’s plan, but not what you say.

 

No, you cannot prevent the sequester from taking effect; that takes Congressional action. Oh, and you insisted on the defense cuts.

 

No, Planned Parenthood does not give mammograms.

 

Notice to some of the Obots among my Facebook correspondents who do not seem to know what the word “liar” means and for whom that word has become the new “racist” by which to characterize anything Romney says: I am not calling Obama’s comments “lies,” which they would be by your standards.

 

Romney was smart to return the theme to domestic policy as much as possible, because that is the voters’ main concern this time. Based on that, he won the debate on successful strategy and substance, along with his win on presentation (despite coming across as hyper at times) and seriousness, even if Obama won on theatrics and energy. This debate will do nothing to reverse the current pro-Romney trends, and the President’s clear annoyance as the debate progressed showed that he knows it.

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