For much of Monday night’s debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sounded less like a candidate seeking change than someone who supports most of America’s present foreign policy.
As often as not, he agreed with President Barack Obama’s policies, and in some areas where Mr. Romney disagreed, it was more a matter of degree than principle.
Small wonder, then, that the kneejerk post-debate consensus was that the president came out ahead.
Not that Mr. Romney didn’t score. After being criticized and lectured to by the president, Mr. Romney responded deftly: “Attacking me is not an agenda.” Also to his credit, Mr. Romney pointed out that the White House was unable to negotiate a deal with Iraq to keep a contingent of U.S. troops there, though the president shrugged that off.
But Mr. Romney took little issue with most of the president’s policies. He congratulated President Obama for the death of Osama bin Laden, agreed with the president’s policy of not sending U.S. troops into Syria, supported the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and backed Israel if that country is attacked. Even with Iran, on which Mr. Romney has sharply criticized the president’s policies, both men generally agreed that the best approach involved tight sanctions and saving military intervention as a last resort..
Mr. Romney’s decision to revisit what he called President Obama’s “apology tour” of the Middle East only gave the president the opportunity to call the label the “biggest whopper” of the campaign and assert that his administration has been building relationships with a number of Middle Eastern countries.
President Obama generally held the upper hand, but resorted to an unpresidential level of snideness in an exchange about maintaining America’s military might. When Mr. Romney said the Navy was at its lowest ship count since 1917, the president said, “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed…”
Still, Mr. Romney, who had to convince voters that he could handle America’s foreign policy, seemed less sure of himself than the president did. Certainly he was more critical of the president’s policies before the debate than he was Monday night, perhaps leaving less reason for Americans to want change than he had hoped.
Monday’s debate was the last time the two candidates will face off directly; that’s unfortunate. Although the candidates resorted to rehearsed answers to some questions and altogether evaded others, voters were able to see differences in policy, philosophy and temperament that they won’t get from speeches and attack ads.
Though election day is two weeks away, the act of choosing is already under way.