Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Incredible Shrinking Mitt

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

Earlier in the day of the final presidential debate, a blimp displaying the slogan "America Needs Romney" crash landed in Davie, Florida. How appropriate! I cannot think of a better metaphor for what happened to Mitt Romney than a crashing bag of hot air. I could actually hear the air seeping out as Romney just kept getting smaller and smaller as the 90 minutes worn on.

Foreign policy was never Romney's strong suit. His campaign knew that and devised a strategy of just doing no harm. Avoid making any major gaffes. The strategy was apparent from the first question which was about Libya. For weeks, the Romney campaign used the tragedy in Benghazi to suggest that Obama's foreign policy was unraveling. However, after being fact checked on live television by Candy Crowley, Romney decided to side step the Libya landmine this time.

Romney also did a pre-emptive strike by being the first to bring up the killing Osama bin Laden. He even congratulated president Obama. This is all part of the new Moderate Mitt act that has been showing up at the debates. But it was also an attempt to prevent Obama from bringing Romney's own words that “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

It did not work. Later in the debate, Obama reminded the viewing audience what Romney had said about capturing bin Laden. Both stances. The first, that wasn't worth the effort. The second, that any president would have killed Osama given the chance.

Romney also introduced new stances at this debate. He agreed with the president regarding Egypt. This after months of criticizing the president for not standing with Hosni Mubarak. He agreed with Obama on removing the troops from Afghanistan in 2014. This after months of saying that he would consult with generals and not announce a firm timetable for leaving.

All the bluster Romney has displayed on the campaign trail was gone. No mention of Obama not meeting with Netanyahu. Not mention of Obama throwing Israel under the bus. Romney tried his attack about Obama apologizing for America and he was quickly rebutted by the president.

To his credit, Romney realized that he was outclassed. He switched the topic to the economy every chance he could be so that he would sound credible for a least a few minutes. The remainder of the time he just agreed with Obama issue after issue. And began to visibly sweat.

The president was in command all evening. He came across as strong, decisive, knowledgeable. The polar opposite of the first debate. At times, he seemed frustrated with the constant shifting of positions by Romney. But he kept his cool and delivered a couple of zingers about Romney's policies being stuck in the past and about our military having "fewer horses and bayonets".

Obama most moving moment was when he talked about visiting Israel. Going to the Holocaust museum to "remind myself the nature of evil." Also, his closing statement was very effective. He looked straight into the camera and made his case to the American people. Again, unlike the first debate.

Romney's closing statement was about peace and working with Democrats. No talk about being a severely conservative governor. Amazing.  The right wing punditry is declaring Mitt Romney the winner. I have a feeling that even if Romney started drooling and babbling incoherently, the right wing commentators would still have said he was "presidential". Laughable.

The debates are over. The final two weeks of this long, very long, too long campaign are finally here. It is rather sad that Gary Johnson - the Libertarian presidential candidate  - was not able to appear on the stage with Obama and Romney. Had that happened, there would have been a real debate about contrasting domestic and foreign policy visions. Instead, Obama presented his vision and Romney just changed his mind.