1 -- The overriding theme of this debate was agreement, as Mr. Romney repeatedly stated that he believes Mr. Obama’s approaches were correct, only he’d had done more of it, sooner. The strategy behind this Me, Too approach is pretty clear – to mollify those who have been afraid that he’s a reckless amateur, and to defuse the international realm as a source of distinction between the candidates – thus refocusing attention on the domestic issues that better suit him. It’s a risky proposition, as it relies on voters’ continuing tolerance of his Say Anything candidacy, and it is so soon after his contradictory, bellicose pronouncements on Iran, and his tactless summer vacation tour. Was PT Barnum right? We’ll see next month.
2 -- Mr. Obama clearly ‘won’ this debate: on his record, on his experience and on the popular zinger count. His contrast of his first visit to Israel with Mr. Romney’s was inspired, and meaningful. But he spent way too much time parrying Romney’s ‘whoppers,’ and not enough time articulating his evident foreign policy vision. He has built and required international consensus and responsibility in actions against wrong-doers, and walked the American talk: reflecting our bedrock political values in his actions -- and he should have said so.
Too often in the past, I believe, the US has allowed immediate, economic expedients to dictate policy at the expense of democracy; in this hemisphere and Iran, for example, we’ve propped-up dictators and undermined the democratic process when the results did not please us. The US has also too-often acted unilaterally, as in Iraq (a coalition?? Please don’t bother). That’s both arrogant and expensive, in budgetary and human terms. The Obama Doctrine is sound and nuanced – indeed, it is precisely the kind of consistent, future-directed strategy Mr. Romney called for at the start of the session. The Prez missed an opportunity to make that knockout argument in crystal clear terms.
3 -- The “1916 Navy” claim, which got the derisive, if somewhat overplayed smackdown it deserved, is disturbing on a deeper level. It was yet another cynical, fear-mongering gambit from the guys who claim they are running against fear-mongering. It is fear-mongering, since it wrongly suggests weakness, and cynical, because size is meaningless when applied to ship count – and they must have known it. It’s a claim about nothing. Calling Mr. Barnum, again.
4 -- The media response has again been tepid and superficial. There were strenuous attempts to say something nice about both Participants, without any policy weighting about what’s actually important. And the fact checkers concerned themselves with whether Marines are issued bayonets. Sure – and they get swords, too – great for recruiting commercials, and utterly trivial in terms of national security.
5 -- One other danger in Mr. Romney’s rope-a-dope approach to this debate – how can it be that he repeatedly agreed with Mr. Obama’s actions and plans – and yet claimed that they reflect ‘weakness,’ ‘unraveling’ and ‘tumult?’ It’s not only inaccurate – it’s internally inconsistent. Will the disconnected Undecideds who may decide this election let him get away with that, too, PT?
6 -- The focus on terror left other, hugely important issues out in the cold: the European debt crisis and global warming being two examples. I understand that the latter is still a hot stove – untouchable, although bound to fry us all in due course. But the EU is far from out-of-the-woods on its finances, and all it got was yet another absurd-on-the-facts reference to Greece. The policy approaches taken by Europe are controversial and fundamentally affect the US economy. Folks, if the EU economy were to tank, so would ours – no amount of confidence-fairy dust would help. If the candidates are serious about their “strength at-home” point, they have to be thinking about how the US can help forestall that calamity. Inquiring minds want to know what they’re responses will be – managed bankruptcy? Some manner of Keynesian stimulus?
7 -- Finally, neither China nor Africa got sufficient time – that’s important, and inter-connected. There’s an excellent book I want to get-to after the election called “Winner Take All,” that describes China’s effective, long term resource acquisition strategy, especially in commodity-rich, developing Africa. It contrasts the West’s “aid” approach with China’s better-received “partnership” approach, from the perspective of an African-born economist. It’s an important phenomenon, not yet much on our radar.
Again, it’s your turn...