Third Debate: Romney acts fatherly while Obama plays a petulant child

The best comment of the night from the third debate: Photo: (AP Photo)

DOTHAN, AL, October 23, 2012 — Now that all the presidential debates are finished the pundits and the talking heads are busy chattering away about who won, what points were made and whether or not the world is doomed if their favorite candidate doesn’t win. If you are tired of the incessant talking points and political dithering, here’s a really simple summary of what just happened:

Debate #1: Two guys go in a bar, one of them wants to drink alone but the other one is kind of pushy and loud. The quiet guy takes a lot of guff from everyone, including his friends.

Debate #2:  Wanting to prove he’s not a wimp, the quiet guy gets real aggressive and both guys have a huge knockdown drag-out fight. Nobody seems to be the winner and nobody seems to care.

Debate #3: Nursing black eyes and now drunk, both guys quiet down. The loud guy tells the quiet guy he had some pretty good punches. The quiet guy makes some sarcastic remarks but the loud guy lets it go. Both men have some more drinks and sing songs until the bartender throws them out at closing time.

It’s as simple as that. In the days before bullying was a national epidemic and boys were taught by their fathers how to fight and defend themselves, this kind of behavior was fairly common. The pattern usually continued into old age and frequently, not always, ended up with the combatants being at least respectful of each other afterward. Of course there was occasionally that guy with a big chip on his shoulder who just wouldn’t give it up and continued being sarcastic no matter what.

For anyone charged up by the first and second debates, the third debate was a letdown. Romney came to praise Caesar not bury him. It was fairly obvious from the start that he was trying to stay above the fray and act more presidential, which also meant a slide to the center to appease voters concerned about repeating the Bush years.

He stayed out of the weeds on Middle East issues and tried to turn the debate back to the economy by talking about China in business terms. For all his critics, Romney offered details on exactly what steps he would take to create jobs and restore healthy trade with China. He sounded a lot like a knowledgeable corporate CEO discussing a business plan.

Obama stuck with his game plan of criticizing Romney and mocking things he has done or said over time. His comments about Navy ships, for example - that things had changed since 1916 and now we have boats that go under the water - was arrogant, sarcastic, lecturing and not worthy of a senior executive. Unfortunately it’s also what we’ve come to expect from this president.

The president referred to his “experience as commander-in-chief” but didn’t explain how foreign policy based on assassination by drones is any better than what we had before his administration. He got away without explaining Libya, funding radical Islamists in Egypt, snubbing Israel or trying to placate Russia. He wasn’t even forced to explain why he rarely attends security briefings.

Afghanistan was discussed by both candidates in political terms that would give chills to any seasoned military leader. Announcing withdrawal dates is tantamount to telling the enemy your plans and puts men still on the ground at great risk. Also, due to other factors like weather and terrain it’s not as simple as pulling your team off a playing field. History shows us that well-meaning but ill-informed politicians cause more military casualties than enemy strategies, and unfortunately Afghanistan is current proof that is still true.

We will find out in another two weeks whether Romney’s strategy of “be the adult and don’t argue with a child” worked, or whether voters think Obama’s sarcasm is cute enough to warrant his continuing in office. I for one was disappointed by last night’s debate. I had honestly hoped for another slugfest like the second debate and had beer and pretzels ready for the event. It’s no fun hearing someone agree with an opponent, and even less fun having to listen to sophomoric mockery from the leader of the free world.

The lesson of the past few decades is that the best foreign policy is one that makes the world as predictable as possible. When the business world feels confident and people feel safe the economy will grow and everyone will benefit. Despite my personal preference for loud argumentative debates, I can’t stop thinking about Romney’s quiet demeanor and fatherly advice that “We can’t kill our way out of this.”

I’ve been waiting since the Vietnam era to hear something like that, and I’d like to hear it from a president, not just a candidate. Maybe it’s time for some real change. 

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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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