Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama Wins The Debate - And Mitt Romney Agrees.

To say that watching last night's foreign policy debate was painful would be a bit like saying an ax to the head will give a person a minor headache. Of course, as a variant on the old axiom goes, 'When you're a fool with an ax, everything looks like a tree.'

From the beginning, the President was poised, assertive, and focused - and he hit Romney hard. Mr. Romney was visibly nervous all night long. It was as though he had an ax to grind with the President, but was simply too afraid to swing it. Inevitably, Romney's policy positions were much like they have been his entire campaign - scattered all over the place, not really landing any serious blows at all.

At the first question from moderator Bob Schieffer, Romney began churning out word-salad responses that sounded confused and yet somehow also pre-rehearsed. In contrast, President Obama spontaneously brought clear details to the first question on Libya and his foreign policy. Obama ticked off a list of foreign policy accomplishments, including the end of the war in Afghanistan, the killing of Bin Laden, and the decimation of Al Qaeda's leadership. Obama then shifted to the attack in Libya, and reminded people that Americans helped topple the brutal regime of Muammar Gaddafi just a year ago.

Romney responded to President Obama's Gaddafi answer with a comment about how he too would "go after the bad guys," sounding strangely like George W. Bush. Again, though, Romney didn't give any real details. Sadly for Romney fans, this was the pattern for the whole debate.

At each question, President Obama would give details, some of them highly specific. Romney would often agree with President Obama, but not give details about what he would do differently. When Romney wasn't delivering word salad, or agreeing with the President, he would dance around the current question, like a verbal version of the 'Time Warp': Just a jump to the left, then a step to the right...

Our 'Time Warp' reference seems oddly fitting, since President Obama also nailed Mr. Romney on the core problem with the Republican nominee's policies - a combination of 1980s foreign policy, with 1950s social policies, and 1920s economic policies.

President Obama also made it clear that Romney is stuck in a time warp on military budgeting. When pinned down by Bob Schieffer on the fact that the math on Romney's military budget simply doesn't add up, Romney kept repeating the idea that the U.S. Navy is the smallest since 1917. Obama replied to Romney's military mendacity, "You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916." "

"Well governor," said Obama, "we also have fewer horses and bayonets… It's not a game of battleship where we're counting ships, it's 'What are our capabilities?'"

That key goal, of keeping focused on the priorities of Americans, was also key to Obama's success in the debate, as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted. Obama linked his broader foreign policy argument to his main message - that our government needs to once again invest in America, and in the American middle class. At every turn, from trade with China and offshoring of jobs, to the winding down of the American war machine and how that money can be put back into education, infrastructure, and paying down the debt, President Obama did something many pundits didn't think he could do: Make foreign policy relevant to Americans again.

One member of our staff summed up what Romney likely thought but didn't say in one simple line: "I agree with most of the stuff you're doing, President Obama - but I still think you suck."

In short, Obama had the details, knew the facts, and quite obviously had a mastery of foreign policy. He knew the power of diplomacy, and the influence our American foreign policy has on our domestic priorities - and the polls agree that Obama crushed Romney.

Romney appeared weak, vacillating, anxious, unclear, and quite obviously unprepared. In short, Romney was simply out of his league, a fool with an ax to grind - but no ability to do so.

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