The R&B debate


Welcome to the National Review. Please check your sense of irony at the door.

How this piece ever made its way to publication is a question for which there is no possible good answer. Now, brought to you by the “You Completely, Deliberately, and Entirely Unconvincingly Missed the Point” Department:

President Obama might want to drop his attacks on Mitt Romney’s “Romnesia.” During Monday’s foreign-policy debate, Obama sarcastically informed the governor about “these things called aircraft carriers” and “ships that go underwater.” For one, voters in Norfolk, Va., and Groton, Conn., might tell the president that ships that “go underwater” are sunk, but boats that go underwater are called submarines.

But the president’s condescending dismissal of criticism about defense budget cuts — noting that today’s military has “fewer horses and bayonets” — also was a gaffe. Land combat soldiers and Marines train with bayonets and still use them in battle when other weapons fail. What’s more, perhaps it was a case of “Obamnesia” that accounts for the president’s failure to remember the indispensible role that horses played in the early days of war in Afghanistan.

Somehow President Obama forgot that on November 11, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden was present at the unveiling of the magnificent 16-foot Horse Soldier Memorial in New York City. During the 2011 Veterans Day parade, members of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) marched down New York’s Fifth Avenue toward a dedication ceremony that was made possible by donors who had raised $750,000.

Oh, it goes on. And on.

Last night’s debate and the American conversation on foreign policy

The New York Times‘ Steven Erlanger, like most of the rest of us that watched last night’s unmoderated monologue-fest, is unimpressed:

In general, there was a sense among analysts and observers outside the United States that these were two intelligent, competent candidates, who do not differ overly much on key issues of foreign policy, and were actually debating with domestic constituencies in swing states foremost in mind.

The debate over Iran and Israel was really about Jewish voters in states like Florida, while the debate over China was really about jobs in Ohio and the Midwest, noted François Heisbourg, a special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research, based in Paris. And that makes perfect sense in a tight American presidential election, where most voters do not consider foreign policy a priority, Mr. Heisbourg said.

“The balance was more toward 9/11 than the pivot to Asia,” Mr. Heisbourg said. “There was more about risks and threats than friends and allies. Both spoke in a Hobbesian world as tough characters willing to deal with monsters out there, not as people spreading the gospel of working with friends and allies to make the world a better place or spreading U.S. influence to help people get along.”

Le Monde said on its Web site, “For each question, the two candidates came back to the economic situation of the country, proof that this is the electorate’s main preoccupation.”

Mr. Obama even spoke of China as an “adversary,” although he said it was also “a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules.” Mr. Romney said essentially the same thing, speaking of confrontation over trade and not about working with China on issues like North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. For Mr. Heisbourg, “Both were wrong on China, portraying it as an adversary, but each got the message across about defending jobs in Ohio.”

Preparing for the worst

One of the fascinating aspects of the three debates so far (two presidential, and one vice presidential) has been to watch how the candidates have handled their alleged vulnerabilities. In each debate, one or both of the candidates had a significant weakness or flaw that was ripe to be exploited by his opponent.

The thing is, everyone knew this. And that means the candidates — and more importantly, their debate prep teams — knew this even better. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the candidates have had some of their strongest moments on issues that were expected to trip them up.

In the above video, President Obama takes Mitt Romney to task for his criticism regarding the consulate attack in Benghazi, leaving the former Massachusetts governor flailing a bit in his response. This was supposed to be Romney’s trump card, and Obama — who had clearly been waiting to respond to this — instead turned it into perhaps his strongest moment of the night.

We saw similar dynamics during the vice presidential debate. Most expected Joe Biden to dominate Paul Ryan on foreign policy and for the opposite to occur in relation to Medicare. But in truth, something a little closer to the opposite took place: Ryan opened fire very early on regarding the attack in Libya, leaving Biden to issue a less than reassuring rebuttal about America’s resolve. Meanwhile, Biden proved perhaps more convincing on Medicare than Ryan did, never allowing the Congressman to drag the conversation into the weeds.

In the first presidential debate, the largest elephant in the room was Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, which Obama — in his dazed and confused performance that night — never managed to bring up. But assuredly Romney had a response all cued up beforehand for that as well. (Interestingly, Obama managed to work in a reference to the 47% issue on the last question of last night’s debate, a phenomenal tactical move that denied Romney the chance to use a prepackaged and rehearsed rebuttal.)

As the upcoming final debate next Monday is on foreign policy, technically the subject should be moving back onto Obama’s turf. But if there’s anything these first three debates have taught us (other than the enormous versatility of the common binder), it’s that waiting to pounce on your opponent’s weakest point does not always pay dividends.

And so it begins: Romney-Obama Part Deux


I will be trying something new tonight.

Instead of simply live-blogging the presidential debate, I hope to live-tweet it. But they won’t be my tweets (or at least, not primarily): instead, I’ll be updating the blog post with the best tweets from around the Internet (or at least, from my Twitter feed).

I’m doing this because my viewing experience for the vice presidential debate last week was significant enhanced by the collective humor of the Internet hive mind. Thus, why not share that experience with all of you?

(Disclaimer: There’s a very good chance I won’t be able to do this because of work-related or other distractions — in which case please ignore all of the above.)

Let the games begin!