Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"The '80's Are Calling..."

Mitt Romney opened the debate hoping for some levity. Referring to last week's Al Smith Dinner in New York, he said: "Mr. President...we were together at a humorous event a little earlier, and it's nice to maybe be funny this time, not on purpose. We'll see what happens." Well, he saw what happened, alright. Obama "funnied" the life out of him as he put another notch on his debate-win belt.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the night besides Obama was the late former President Richard Nixon, who no longer holds the "sweatiest presidential debater" crown. Romney perspired so much he looked like Usain Bolt in mile 26 of the NYC Marathon. Although I'm not sure what was more humiliating for the Republican challenger, his obvious disregard for the "Never let 'em see ya sweat" adage or his repeated cries of "Attacking me is not an agenda!," which his campaign even tweeted throughout the evening. Nothing says "presidential" more than a sopping wet whiner.

After waking from his first-debate coma, Obama came back swinging in last week's second match. But it was Monday night's foreign policy debate that will be most remembered. Obama delivered a couple of verbal smack downs on par with Lloyd Bentsen's famous 1988 "You're no Jack Kennedy" barb to his Republican vice presidential challenger Dan Quayle.

"The 1980′s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back," Obama quipped in response to Romney's outdated positions. And when Romney charged that the Navy has fewer ships than it did in 1916 the president shot back with: "We also have fewer horses and bayonets."

It was about this point in the debate that conservative pundit Glenn Beck tweeted in frustration of Romney:  "He is not hitting anywhere. Is this to make him not scary? He is scaring me."

Obama also called out his opponent's Romnesia on several occasions, the most notable over the auto industry bailout, which Romney had opposed in his November 18, 2008 NY Times "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed. "If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we'd be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China. You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye...Governor, the people in Detroit don't forget."

Romney, who is typically an attack dog at these debates, sat meekly for most of the night and seemed to follow a strategy that called for him to agree more with Obama than disagree. Surprisingly, the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, where four Americans died including Ambassador Chris Stevens, didn't dominate the discussion as expected. Instead, Romney shared positions on China, Israel, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, drone attacks and anti-terrorism so similar to the president's that at times it was hard to tell the two candidates apart.  It was interesting that virtually the entire foreign policy discussion focused on the Middle East, as if nothing else around the world matters. Not a peep about the European financial meltdown, for example, and how they'd help fix the collapsing economies of Spain, Greece and Italy.  

So who "won?" A CBS News poll had 53%-23% for Obama.  CNN's insta-poll showed Obama with a  48%-40% margin. Clearly, Obama was as calm, cool and collected as Kennedy was in his historic 1960 debate against Nixon. He demonstrated intelligence, a mastery of the facts and issues, discipline and control. He was presidential and a highly competent Commander-in-Chief. He was Muhammad Ali to Romney's Chuck Wepner.

To the contrary, Romney was agitated, befuddled, nervous, naive, inexperienced and yes, very, very sweaty. He had so little in his foreign policy arsenal that he tried to steer the discussion to the economy at every possible turn. He gave voters zero reason to believe he brings anything new to the foreign policy table, nor reasons why they should stop the Obama momentum abroad. And when Republican spinners all claim, as former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer did, that Benghazi (which they've harped on for weeks) and foreign policy doesn't matter and that it's the economy that Americans will vote on, or that the debate itself "doesn't matter," it's obvious they know their guy lost.

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