October 23 2012
The Debate: Big Picture Vs. Small President
The Washington Post headline reads:
Obama Keeps Romney on His Heels in Last Debate
What debate were they watching?
I watched the debate last night with a group of conservatives and the clapping, laughing, and cheering were indicative of happy people who knew their guy was scoring.
I agree with Yuval Levin and others that, if you didn’t know which guy was the president, you’d have thought it was Mitt Romney. President Obama came across as the kid who hasn’t done his homework and is trying to bluff.
Like Julie, I was hoping that Romney would wipe the floor over the Behghazi disgrace. It's like Watergate with American deaths. But I can see why Romney took another tact. First, Romney would have been returning to a failed moment in the previous debate. On top of that, he did something more effective: as Michael Barone points out this morning, Romney concentrated on the big picture. Romney talked about peace through strength, the provocation of weakness, and a world that has grown more dangerous on Barack Obama’s watch.
The best moment was Romney’s invocation of President Obama’s “apology tour” early in his term. It is interesting—and not at all helpful to the president—that the term “apology tour” is now part of the lexicon. Barone writes:
[T]he high point is when [Romney] devastatingly leveled the charge of Obama going around the world on an apology tour. Obama's answer was ask any reporter and they will tell you it wasn't so. That's about as weak an answer you can get. And Romney's response to quote Obama saying that, 'we dictate to other nations,' and Romney said, 'we do not dictate to other nations, we liberate them.' And Obama was utterly speechless.
Instead [Romney] painted a broader picture of disarray in the Middle East and the world. Disarray doesn’t work in favor of an incumbent president. Romney returned to this theme again and again. He decried “the rising tide of tumult and confusion. And attacking me is not an agenda.”
That last line was particularly good because the president came across as a man spoiling for a fight. He was obviously trying to goad Romney into saying something stupid. He failed.
My fellow conservatives will be disappointed that Romney didn’t do more attacking, especially as President Obama’s foreign “policy” presents such a rich target. Instead Romney endorsed the president’s drone attacks, without mentioning that we should reevaluate and perhaps use them more sparingly so that we don’t lose valuable intelligence.
Also in the “me too” vein, Romney didn’t argue about the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan or point out that the president disastrously obliged our enemies by giving them a helpful date by which to gauge their activities. But it’s pretty much decided that we’ll be leaving Afghanistan and the only question remains is which of these two men will manage it better. If circumstances dictate changes in our plans, Romney will be flexible enought to respond. Our enemies know that.
President Obama seemed to me to be struggling throughout the debate, almost comic at certain points: his call to hire-more-teachers as the solution to everything that ails us is becoming a punch line. Even moderator Bob Schieffer, who, by the way, did a good job, was reduced to saying at one point, “We all like teachers,” to move the debate along.
President Obama needed Candy Crowley last night. He made all sorts of missteps and always seemed to be angry. I expected Mitt Romney to talk about the economy, but I was surprised at how often President Obama mentioned the economy, not really a good talking point for an incumbent who dumped $800 billion into the economy and we still have high unemployment. President Obama wants to use the money we've spent abroad to do "nation building at home." I think that means hiring more teachers.
There was one really astonishing revelation of vanity—when President Obama said “the nation, me.”
Yuval Levin writes that it “sounded better in the original French,” while Nick Schultz tweeted the original French: “L’etat c’est moi.”
I don’t want to toot my own French horn, but I beat the fellows to the punch, noting that after similar remark revealing a soupcon of grandeur in the second debate, President Obama seemed to be “getting in touch with his inner Louis XIV.”
I heard a conservative commentator say before the debate that Romney concentrating not on winning on debate points but on winning the presidency. I think he helped himself last night. At the very least, President Obama did nothing to stop Romney's momentum.