I get that the economy is the most important issue this election. I don’t get why the candidates weren’t satisfied talking about it for two debates. Politically, President Obama wiped the floor with Mitt Romney. When it came to substance, both men limited themselves to canned talking points on issues that require nuance and deliberation.
Politicians need to dodge questions and sidestep points. I get that, it’s politics. But when the topic of debate is foreign policy, I want to hear you dodge questions about foreign policy. How the debate ended up being about teachers, Solyndra, and the auto industry for a good chunk of time is beyond me; moderator Bob Schiefer should have stepped in early and forced the candidates back on track.
While the candidates were reciting economy talking points, here’s what they missed. How is our drone program Constitutional? Mitt Romney said that we “can’t kill our way out” of the War on Terror, but then said he would continue the program. President Obama gave no indication that the program would be changed at all. How does the military’s “pivot to the Pacific” make geopolitical sense? Are we sending a message to China? Neither man could answer; our pivot to the Pacific has something to do with Detroit apparently. Mali represents a genuine national security concern, but it wasn’t mentioned except by Romney (who incorrectly stated that Al Qaeda had taken it over). What about our national security strategy in East Africa? What are we going to do to develop allies like Kenya while combating groups like Al-Shabbab? This wasn’t mentioned once.
On Israel and Iran, Obama and Romney seemed only interested in throwing red meat to the Florida retiree crowd. Obama lacked much substance, but did not indicate what he would do if Israel were to bomb Iran. Romney was even worse. Indicting Ahmadinejad, a man on his way out who has absolutely zero political power in Iran, on charges genocide is a stupid idea. His repeated charge that Iran is four years closer to a nuclear bomb was similarly shallow. Now Iran is 20 seconds closer. Now they’re 30 seconds closer…
Romney also made the most shocking claim of the night: that America doesn’t dictate other nations. We are only a force for good. I know that it is a touchy topic, one that reopens old wounds. It simply isn’t true. Since the end of World War II, the United States has covertly or conventionally intervened in countless nations at the expense of democratic movements there. Iran, Guatemala, El Salvador, Vietnam, Chile, Congo, and the Philippines make up the short list.
This idea that America can do no wrong pervaded the debate. The “apology tour” B.S. aside, both candidates closing statements amounted to nationalist-masturbation; the argument for American Exceptionalism, the portrayal of America as the “reluctant sheriff,” or the “shining city on a hill.” John Winthrop, the Puritan colonist who first used “city on a hill,” presided over the trial of Anne Hutchinson. President Obama accused Governor Romney of “trying to airbrush history,” but he was guilty too. Voters deserve direct answers, and this debate did not deliver.
-Philip Hills-Bunnell ’14