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That Obama is Sooooo Smart

Regular readers of this publication have no doubt noticed that we are not averse to sarcasm. Wielded effectively, sarcasm is an effective rhetorical device, can even achieve a satisfying literary quality, and often provides the added benefit of a healthful chuckle.

Such is our regard for sarcasm that it pains us to see it misused, as President Barack Obama has so often done over the past many years. In Monday night’s final presidential debate against Mitt Romney, for example, Obama employed sarcasm on several occasions to a disastrous effect.

The most celebrated incident occurred after Romney inveighed against Obama’s parsimonious defense budget proposals, rightly noting that they would leave the Navy with fewer ships than at any time since 1917 and well short of what the admirals have determined are necessary to fulfill their mission. Sneering like one of the late-night comedy show hosts that he so often hangs out with, Obama retorted that “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 underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Reports indicate that the lines prompted a big cheer from press gallery, but it is unlikely that more objective observers were as enthusiastic. Reaction from the military was certainly unimpressed, with soldiers noting that both horses and bayonets have played a role in the war Obama has been prosecuting in Afghanistan, sailors noting that submarines are called “boats” in naval parlance, and almost everyone in uniform down to the lowliest “corpseman” wondering at what point in his career as a community organizer and adjunct law professor and hack politician Obama became such an expert military strategist. A majority of the civilian population probably had a similarly unfavorable reaction, with even the most militarily unsavvy doubting that such barbs would adequately substitute for a few cruisers or destroyers in wartime.

Worse yet, the line probably garnered few laughs outside the press room or the sweetly smoked living rooms of MSNBC’s paltry viewership. Sarcasm is a challenging art, and Obama fell short of its magnificent potential for reasons well known to the accomplished practitioner.

Sarcasm should only be deployed in appropriate circumstances, to cite but one rule that Obama disregarded. Except in the most unusual circumstances sarcasm should be eschewed at events such as funerals, elementary school awards presentations, baptisms, death bed visits, and presidential debates concerning matters of national security. Obama’s sneering screed seem petty and unserious, while Romney’s forbearance made him seem far more presidential.

Sarcasm should also be reserved for the most obvious fallacies, and one needn’t be a hard-core Romney supporter to see his argument made a serious point that warranted a serious response. The sarcasm was an insult not only to Romney, but to all those interested to hear a serious response from Obama.

Truly skewering sarcasm ends a debate on any point, but when it misses the remark it only invites a withering counterattack of sarcasms. So it was with Romney’s follow-ups that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” The gag belongs to a genre of jokes that was stale even by the time the “Seinfeld” program lampooned it million syndicated re-runs ago, presupposes that most voters will share its assumption that the peace-through-strength model that ended the Cold War is no longer relevant. Obama’s relentless Bush-bashing seems to have some popular appeal, but Reagan-bashing is offensive to the old folks and makes one seem something of a geezer to the young.

Similar sarcasm abounds in the Obama campaign, which has turned into a veritable stand-up routine of knee-slapping Big Bird and binder jokes, and the die-hard fans who still turn up at the rallies seem to eat it up. Lefties love their sarcasm, no matter how unskillful, so long as it’s aimed at the proper targets. The left’s obsession with sarcasm dates back at least to Saul Alinsky, the late leftist guru of community organizing whose “Rules For Radicals” advocated ridicule as a propaganda method, and it increasingly seems to be their favorite method of argument.

Lefty sarcasm can be effective, as Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and any number of other irrecoverably ridiculed conservatives will attest, but it seems unlikely to prevail against the sobering economic realities that are ever present in this election. Should this prove true, we’ll be eager to offer a witty “duh.”

— Bud Norman

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The Strong and Silent Type

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.

The more loyal of the legacy media’s pundits will no doubt proclaim Obama the victor by their pointless point-scoring methods, but Romney’s been rising in the polls ever since the last proclaimed debate victories by Obama and his running mate and we don’t expect this final round will change that.

— Bud Norman