Mitt Romney went awfully easy on Barack Obama in Monday night’s presidential debate, by our thinking, but we suspect he had his reasons.
The most frustrating portion of the proceedings was the discussion of the Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya and its four resulting deaths, when Romney declined to mention the administration’s repeated denials of requests by the ambassador for more security, its weeks-long insistence on a false story that a little-known video had provoked the event, its outrageous imprisonment of the filmmaker and implied apology for the First Amendment, its continuing dissembling, the president’s callous description of the deadly attack as “not optimal” and “bumps in the road,” or any of several other disturbing aspects of Obama’s utter pooch-screwing in the matter. Similar punch-pulling marked Romney’s response to questions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, America’s commitment to Israel, and the likely dire consequences of the recent political upheavals in the Middle East.
Vexing as it was to listen to, we can see how such tactics effectively served a broader campaign strategy. The debate was devoted to foreign policy during an election dominated by economic issues, the two previous debates had likely sufficed for all the but the most politically enthused, and televised competition from professional football and the seventh game of the National League championship series had further reduced the audience, so Romney’s main objectives were to reassure the skittish womenfolk that presumably predominated in the audience that he’s not a bloodthirsty war-monger and avoid anything that would provide fodder for a ravenous press to exploit over the next few day’s worth of news stories.
He seems have to succeeded in both regards. As much as we would have loved to see Romney tear further into Romney’s failings, his lack of aggressiveness on the obvious points probably bolstered the amiably calm-and-steady persona that he displayed throughout the evening. If he made any glaring mistakes, the news reports that followed on brief news reports failed to highlight them.
Romney also scored a few points along the way, provoking some rather unpresidential behavior from the president. He rightly criticized the apologetic nature of Obama’s foreign policy, and when Obama rudely interrupted to dispute the allegation he was met with some verbatim quotes that most viewers will inevitably interpret as apologies for America’s past. When Romney rightly noted that Obama’s defense cuts have left the Navy with its fewest ships since 1917, Obama responded with a sarcastic explanation of how “we have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them,” implying that not only Romney but the Navy admirals that have requested an additional 38 ships lack a rudimentary understanding of naval strategy.
Although foreign policy was the announced topic of the debate, much of the debate was spent on the closely related topic of the economy. This allowed Obama to talk at length about hiring more teachers, which he seems to believe is the key to the economic recovery that has somehow eluded him the past four years, and Romney seized the opportunity to express his love for teachers even as he doubted that a few thousand more of them will somehow bring about full employment.
— Bud Norman