By Alice Dubenetsky
You just never know who’s going to show up at these presidential debates. The third and final debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was surprising for a number of reasons, not least that Obama seemed to have altered his persona yet again, trying to find an identity that might display a presidential bearing. His stiff, staring, overly intent posture was a far cry from the stumbling, out-of-touch Obama during the first debate but it was nearly as unsettling. He looked wooden and seemed perpetually annoyed by every word Romney said. His irritability was not presidential. When he spoke, he often resorted to a level of rudeness that made him look small and unpleasant and, well, Biden-like.
Obama had his hackles up right from the beginning, as the candidates both fielded a question about Libya and the attacks that occurred on September 11 that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in a prolonged and seemingly preventable assault. This is a subject that has haunted the Obama administration, prompting accusations of a cover-up because of their supposed attempts to spread disinformation for days following the attack. Romney avoided accusing the president of malfeasance in that attack, but he was quick to detail how the so called “Arab Spring” has degenerated into chaos in the Middle East, from the terrorist strike in Libya to the Al Maida takeover of Mali, and that the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He rejected Obama’s assertion that Muslim extremism waning, contrary to the president’s talking points.
Obama attempted to spin Romney as out of touch and “old” throughout the debate. He challenged Romney’s identification of Russia as a threat, saying that is a third world policy. Romney responded that what he’s said in the past is that Russia is a geo-political foe and Iran is the greatest national security threat. “I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin, and I’m certainly not going to say to him, ‘I’ll have more flexibility after the election.’” Romney was referring to a “hot mike” incident during a summit in Seoul, South Korea during which Obama tried to reassure Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, even going so far as to give him a physical pat to reinforce his intent. Both men were unaware that the microphones and cameras were still picking up their actions and words. It was an unsettling moment for many, who continue to wonder what, exactly, our president meant by those remarks.
One exchange that will be remembered and replayed until the media realizes it’s not really a winner for Obama is the “horses and bayonets zinger” that the president must have been chomping at the bit to deliver. In response to Romney’s assertion that our military is being gutted by this administration, and that we have fewer ships than we had in 1917, Obama, in a conspicuous attempt to demean his opponent, said, “I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the navy, for example and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916 (sic). Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed.” It got laughter, and Obama was satisfied, but in fact, the U.S. military does use horses and bayonets. The Daily Caller posted an article today noting that they recently won an Edward R. Murrow award for a report about American soldiers who were the first U.S. forces to fight in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks – on horseback. And bayonets are still regularly used in military training and deployment.
In contrast to Obama, Romney remained calm and unruffled, and generally impervious to the President’s obvious attempts to demean and ridicule him.
On the debate scorecard, Romney landed a direct hit when he detailed Obama’s “apology tour” to Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, skipping over Israel entirely, even though they are our closest allies in the Middle East. “And by the way, they noticed,” said Romney.
Today the pundits and bloggers are all comparing performances and “zingers” and declaring winners and losers. But it was evident that only one of the two men on the debate stage last night had the gravitas, the levelheaded common sense to be president of the United States. Much can be determined about a person’s character by the way they deal with people with whom they disagree. Romney was statesman-like and presidential. Obama was just disagreeable.