To paraphrase the Russell Crowe classic, Gladiator, last night we actually were not entertained.
Last night’s debate focused on foreign policy, and fans of the rough and tumble style of the previous debate were probably wondering why they were sitting through an unwanted geography lesson. It was a much more civil discussion and more centered around policy than any stark declaration of ideology.
The takeaway from the debate was Mitt Romney’s dedication to placing all of us inside of an echo chamber. He purposely, though not skillfully, sided with the President on several issues. These included drone use, intervention in Syria, the war in Afghanistan and the role of the U.S as a international leader. Due to the fact that President Obama has spent the last four years immersed in foreign affair briefings, he showed a much firmer grip on the topics and thus came across as more knowledgeable.
Romney, on the other hand, demonstrated several moments where he seemed to rehearse an already scripted message. At times it was bizarre, as if Romney thought that by not engaging fully, he would come off as a safe alternative to the President. It was almost as if he were telling the nation, “I’m just like the other guy, except I’m the white version.” By playing it safe he didn’t reveal any (or at least not enough) marked differences. A curious approach for a challenger, as they usually are on the offensive and hoping to force the issue. Romney played a “prevent” defense — an arrogant move and one only issued if someone feels that they are way ahead.
The President, to his credit, repeatedly tried to draw a line in the sand and make the differences between the two candidates clear and obvious. Romney wouldn’t engage him and relented on many topics. It was damn near deferential. The President did succeed in calling out Romney on his many policy changes, and his ignorance in comprehending the military’s latest techniques and strategies.
The reason why “horses and bayonets” is still trending is because it was one of the few moments of resonance. Romney’s assertion that the shrinking size of the Navy is somehow a major issue, prompted President Obama to remind him that we’re in the 21st century. Basically saying that we’re using new technology and forward thinking and that you’re stuck in the past. It’s the only time any of us laughed.
Though to be fair, policy debates don’t need to be entertaining. They just need to be informative. What the public learned last night is that Romney will generally do and say whatever is needed, at the time, in order to succeed. Now, he certainly didn’t create this strategy. Every politician, Obama included, skates by the truth from time to time. By agreeing on so many topics, Romney is attempting to show his versatility and remove any concerns about him being a neo-con or a war enthusiast. If it works, it’s brilliant.
Problem is, he’s shown himself to be a liar on a very high level. It’s one thing to evolve some of your stances when presented with new information, but Romney changes ALL of his stances. As a voter, you’re sorta left dumbstruck by what his core beliefs are and where exactly is his point of non-negotiation. It’s like he’s daring us to do the research and call him out. It’s a very cynical approach. In two weeks, we’ll find out whether his underestimation proves correct.