Content and Conduct: A Review of the Third Presidential Debate

Well, the snoozefest that was the foreign policy debate is now in the books; and the closing statements couldn’t have come soon enough.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching the back and forth between President Obama and Governor Romney, the one-liners and the zingers.  But as politically astute as I am, I’m no foreign policy wonk so I paid more attention to demeanors and attitudes than to the facts (and spin) of the debate.  And I have a feeling most Americans did the same…at least the ones who weren’t watching Game 7 or Monday Night Football.  So it is through that framework I will opine on whom I consider the victor of 2012’s final presidential debate.

CONTENT
But before I get to the attitudes, I will discuss a couple of content points.  I will begin my content analysis by saying simply there weren’t tremendous policy differences between the two candidates.  President Obama, despite his “apology tour,” has remained popular with his foreign policy (which, I should note, is nearly identical to his predecessor’s).  So, with no major differences on foreign policy, there wasn’t much to debate.  Except, of course, for domestic policy.

Governor Romney struck first by congratulating the president on ordering the bin Laden raid.  I would have given this point to whomever mentioned bin Laden first.  Obama would have been well served to get the first mention, but Romney preempted him, thus severely weakening any claim to the bin Laden mission the president had.  Thus: Romney 1, Obama 0.

Second, 31 minutes into the debate, Romney made a distinct transition to the economy and stuck to it for quite a while.  At one point, the moderator, CBS’ Bob Schieffer tried to move back to foreign policy, but allowed Romney to respond to Obama’s attacks on education.  While Schieffer was widely acclaimed as the best moderator of this year’s debate circuit, he lacked the ability to keep the candidates focused on the event’s purported theme: Foreign policy.  While Mark Simone (@MarkSimoneNY) was tweeting this: “Guess they got bored with foreign policy,” Dr. Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato), the renowned political scientist from the University of Virginia was apparently playing drinking games for Romney transitions to the economy.

Dr. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia tweets about the third presidential debate.

One final word on content: With few differences between Romney and Obama on foreign policy, this election will be decided on the economy.  And that’ bad news for the president.

CONDUCT
Now, on to the attitudes.

Although Romney appeared frustrated at the outset of the debate, he seemed to calm down once in the swing of things and came across as very genuine and concerned.  He portrayed an aura of security without smugness.  He was very presidential and likeable.

President Obama, on the other hand, went well beyond confidence, surpassing even overconfidence, and rocketed right on to cocky.  Just as I did with the number of times Smilin’ Biden interrupted Paul Ryan, I couldn’t keep up with the president’s boastful “I’s” and “me’s.”

In addition to his arrogance, the president’s personal attacks on Romney were unbecoming.  He repeatedly called the governor a liar and spoke down to him as if he were a child.  He even went as far as to highlight the aforementioned lack of differences by saying, quite arrogantly, “You’d do what I did [but] say it louder.”  The fact is this: Mr. Obama has done little and talked much, so he is the last person who needs to make brash accusations about talking loudly.

Furthermore, President Obama was condescending on military readiness, an abhorrent attitude for the commander-in-chief to have.    Mr. Romney made solid points regarding the diminishing size of our Navy, even citing naval reports showing a need for fleet increases.  The president, in all his pontificating pride, said that military readiness has changed by telling the governor, “We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.  We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”  In fact, it was this monologue from whence came his comparison of battleships to horses and bayonets, which sparked the number three trending hashtag on Twitter, #HorsesAndBayonets.

BRINGING IT ALL HOME
So, although the president has four years of foreign policy experience under his belt, and made some concrete arguments, he was not the winner last night.  Debate victories are achieved by having rebutted and refuted all or most of one’s opponent’s arguments and claims.  Neither Romney nor Obama did so, making the policy portion of the debate a tie.  But, Mr. Obama didn’t lose on content, he lost on conduct.  His unpresidential demeanor and condescending manner cost him this debate, and likely this election.

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