Tuesday, October 23, 2012

“The Debate – Act III”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Debate – Act III”
October 23, 2012

If there had been any question as to who had been ahead in the polls going into last night’s debate, any doubt was dispelled by the manner in which each handled the questions posed by moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News. President Obama was contentious, persistently interrupting Mr. Romney; he was on the attack most of the night. The question for the public: was he properly aggressive or simply boorish? Governor Romney, knowing that the trajectory of recent polling favored his candidacy, was determined to portray himself as moderate, sober and presidential. Again, the question: did he succeed?

Yesterday was the third act in the Presidential debates. Mercifully, we are now only two weeks away from the election. Other than the media, whose coffers have been swollen by the, literally, billions of dollars in ad spending, the rest of the country is exhausted from too much exposure to disingenuous politicians – who, because of our peculiar primary system, must appeal to a few outliers at the expense of the rest of us.

Despite the New York Times suggesting that the two rivals offer “starkly different views of the world,” the truth of the matter is that the differences are not that great when it comes to foreign affairs. Both men have the safety and security of the American people as their first priority. Both recognize the changing dynamics in the Pacific region, and both see the need to get Iran to stop their pursuit of nuclear weapons. The differences are more in form than in substance. Supporters of both men came away comfortable their man had won.

Lynn University, in Boca Rotan, was the venue for the final debate. While the college is relatively young – its roots go back to 1962 – has a relatively small student body (2049 enrolled for 2012) and a low graduation rate (33% in 2007), it holds the record for the highest paid college president. In 2006, the last year of his thirty-five year presidency, Donald Ross was paid $5,738,422. His son, Kevin, is the current president. As an aside, it is curious that none of the debates have been held at one of the nation’s fine public state universities; they all have been held at private colleges with annual costs ranging from $48,000 at Lynn University and Hofstra University to $55,000 at the University of Denver – highlighting the reality of the cost of an education.

The line many Democrats seemed to like was when the President appeared to be giving a lesson on modern military weaponry to Mr. Romney, when he said that bayonets are no longer used in the army. Thus bayonets join binders and Big Bird as part of Democrats’ lexicon. (Not surprisingly, the President seemed unaware that the Marine Corps still uses bayonets and that the OKC-35 bayonet replaced the M-7 and M-9 in 2003. (One of my favorite lines – and the only time I laughed out loud – was when the Mr. Obama said, “…and we have ships that go under water – you know, nuclear submarines.”)

It was interesting that early on, Mr. Romney did not take the bait about Benghazi. It was a ploy by the President and an obvious, deliberate plan by the Governor not to stoop to gutter politics. The crime, and I suspect there was one, as to what happened in Benghazi on September 11th was one of a cover-up – difficult to discuss in a debate on foreign policy. As I watched the debate, it seemed to me that Mr. Romney was smart to keep the discourse more elevated. Gutter politics are better suited to Chicago politicians than to Northeastern moderate Republicans.

Mr. Obama has obviously been listening to his close friend and political advisor, David Axelrod. He repeated ad nauseam his memorized lines: “Governor, you are all over the map.” “This is not the 1980s or the 1950s.” The President attempted to portray Mr. Romney as reckless and invoked the names of Dick Cheney and George Bush in the hopes that some of their bellicosity fame would rub off on the contender. Mr. Romney wouldn’t stoop. He responded at one point, “Attacking me is not an agenda.” As one commentator put it, “Mr. Romney went large; Mr. Obama went small.” When the Governor confronted the President about his ‘apology trip’ to the Middle East early in his Presidency (when he spoke in Cairo and, infamously, bowed to the Saudi king, but avoided going to Israel) Mr. Obama petulantly responded, “I haven’t apologized.”

Among my more favorite lines from Mitt Romney were: “We do not dictate to other nations; we liberate them,” and in regard to Mr. Putin: “I won’t give you so much flexibility after my election.”

In terms as to who won, both sides claimed victory. Democrats liked the more aggressive Mr. Obama, while Republicans seemed to feel that their man appeared competent and unflappable. If this were a fight, I would have given the first rounds to Mr. Obama and the latter ones to Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama, burdened by his domestic record had to be on the attack. But, in his persistent interruptions, did he come across as defensive? Mr. Romney needed to come across as a thoughtful Commander-in-Chief. He did not want to get into a fight, especially one sought by the more belligerent Mr. Obama.

Over the next few days, we will see what the polls will show. The goal of both men is to corral the undecided voter. I suspect both achieved what they wanted. My guess is that the debate did not alter the trajectory of the path Mr. Romney appears to be on. In my opinion, this is a critical election. The country is in an economic and fiscal downward spiral. As Mr. Romney pointed out, heavy debt owed to foreign creditors and a weak economy at home limit our abilities to influence events overseas. That becomes the crux of the election.

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