Hey, I thought that debate was supposed to be on foreign policy!
Okay, there was some discussion on foreign policy topics, but President Obama took every opportunity to turn to domestic issues, and Mitt Romney was perfectly comfortable going to domestic issues, too. President Obama’s phrase of the night was “we need to do some nation-building at home” — something he mentioned multiple times. He also spoke, frequently, of women’s rights and education.
The tone of the debate, overall, was more civil, with more willingness to indicate agreement than we have seen. That may well have been Romney’s strategy. Still, there were some awkward shots taken, and in my view, they were mostly taken by the President. The President had an obviously scripted comment — “The 1980s called and is asking for its foreign policy back,” followed by a reference to a “social policy of the 1950s” and “economic policy of the 1920s,” that I thought was forced and unfortunate. The President’s later comment that foreign affairs isn’t a game of Battleship, and involves aircraft carriers and submarines, also seemed patronizing and harsh, and struck a clanging note in my view. The President’s interruption of Romney when Romney was explaining his position on the auto industry also seemed unnecessarily aggressive. C’mon, Mr. President — let him answer, then give your response.
I thought both candidates did a good job, but I would give the edge to Romney. The President has had the job and has dealt with foreign affairs for years; Romney looked like he belongs on the same stage as the President and could speak knowledgeably about every topic thrown his way — whether it was China, or Iran, or trade policy. Romney’s closing statement was, I thought, very effective as well. Romney looked like he could be President, and that clearly was one of his more important goals.