The last debate was not what I was expecting, at all. Benghazi was glossed over, Mr. Romney was mostly polite and deferential, President Obama was the only one who seemed ready to tussle.
On reflection, Mr. Romney’s strategy makes sense. This debate was cast to persuade the undecided voters of Ohio, and if the rest of us chose to listen in, that was fine with him, but we were in no way the intended audience. Mr. Romney presented himself as a reasoned, rational decision-maker, nowhere near the pugnacious upstart who growled at the incumbent in the second debate.
Women voters don’t like warmongers? Okay, I’m for peace in the world, went the Romney line. Women think President Obama is cool and far-sighted? Then I’ll agree with his every move and policy as much as possible, distinguishing myself only in a few areas: more strict on Iran; don’t downsize the military; reining in China; closer to Israel; projecting strength in the world; and, oh, yeah, that pesky economy that just hasn’t gotten any better.
Perhaps the situation in Benghazi is too complicated for a two-minute discussion. Maybe Mr. Romney has been poked a few too many times for comfort: Big Bird, the 9/11 statement about the situation in the Middle East; the “act of terror” versus “terrorist acts” debacle. It’s possible that he just didn’t want to give Mr. Obama any sound bites. For whatever reason, Mr. Romney went for the measured, stately responses, only chastising the President a couple of times for attacking him instead of addressing the issues.
So, we’re back to policy. Which, of course, is where educated voters prefer the candidates to remain, anyhow. If you prefer cooperation between countries, with no real stand-out leader, allowing events to unfold as they will, with slight course corrections from the sidelines, President Obama is your man. If you prefer a more stand-alone, show-of-strength policy, then Mr. Romney has your back. We have but a couple of weeks to find out which man the voters in Ohio will elect.
At this stage, unless the Romney camp and its cohorts flood the airwaves with revelations about Benghazi, the substantive issues in this campaign appear to have been settled. Now it’s just a waiting and a polling game, with neither side knowing what the actual outcome will be until November 6 or beyond, depending on how close the results are.
Neither candidate will be showing us anything new—even the talking points of the last debate had all been trotted out before: Obama is soft; Romney is a waffler. Nothing more will get done in the next couple of weeks, even as the fiscal cliff looms ever larger. It is a shame that becoming elected outshines running the government by so great a margin, but unless we change the rules of campaigning, or the electorate cries, “Foul!”, the disconnect between running for office and acting in an official capacity will grow ever larger.
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