Tuesday’s debate was odd -- entertaining, but odd. My first impression was something of amazement -- amazement at how aggressive both candidates were. Generally, feisty debates are fun to watch, but something didn’t seem right when the leader of the free world is standing toe-to-toe with a challenger dueling for the last word.
I understand the tremendous pressure to be aggressive, the strategy to push the moderator around and to get the last word. We’re told this is how debates are won. (Vice-president Joe Biden supposedly won his debate based on face expressions alone.) With a background in Western Philosophy, I tend to believe that aggression and bullying during a debate are often best maneuvered by those who either don’t have a firm grasp of the facts or just don’t know how to use them. But in the public eye, logic doesn’t always win an argument. Appeals to emotion, poisoning the well, ad hominem, and a host of other logical fallacies can be effective tools in the art of sophistry.
How many of us have argued with a person who won’t let you talk or just talks over you? How about arguing with someone who sneers, scoffs, or laughs at every thing you say? This may be how Joey Lunch-Bucket argues at the shop, but not how presidential debates are supposed to be won.
I thought it was fairly clear that Mitt Romney had won Tuesday’s debate on substance alone. He was armed with facts, executed a strong indictment of Obama’s failings, and defended is views the best he could. Yet, it wasn’t a walloping like the first debate because President Obama finally looked as if he wanted to be there.
Romney dominated the first half of the debate on economic issues -- although Obama had a memorable one-liner about Romney’s five point plan actually being a one point plan. Romney’s momentum shifted after Moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney (wasn’t technically a correction since Romney didn’t make an assertion) over the matter of Libya and whether the president considered it an act of terror. Here is the script:
ROMNEY: I think (it's) interesting the president just said something which -- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That's what I said.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir ... call it an act of terror.
OBAMA: Could you say that a little louder, Candy?
The problem, however, is that although Obama did in fact use the words “acts of terror” during his Rose Garden speech, it’s unclear he was referring to the embassy attacks in Libya.
If one were to follow the transcript -- in particular, the paragraph preceding the quotation -- Obama was talking about a nation mourning the tragic loss of life on 9-11-01 and about the ultimate sacrifice made by our military in the middle east. It appears his “acts of terror” did not refer to the attack in Benghazi.
Given the last two weeks of the White House avoiding direct and persistent media questions whether the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism, it’s fairly clear the president did not consider or just didn’t want the public to believe that the attack in Benghazi was an act of terrorism. If four Americans lost their lives solely due to a middle east protest gone wild, then it couldn’t have been a premeditated attack executed by a well-armed and highly trained terrorist network. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice promoted this theory on news networks when she blamed the attacks solely on an infamous anti-Muslim video that most Muslims knew little about.
After the moderator corrected Romney, the debate momentum shifted. Even worse, the audience began to clap in support of the correction -- violating the stipulated rules of the debate. We also learned that it was First Lady Michelle Obama that led the chorus of clapping, which is an even bigger no, no.
Ultimately, this debate won’t make much difference moving the needle since the win wasn’t decisive for either candidate. The debate to watch will be on Monday where foreign policy will be the theme.
One way or another, Obama will have to explain to the public why the intelligence community had different Intel than the White House; why the Benghazi embassy was not adequately protected despite specific and credible threats; and why requests to beef up security were ignored out of hand. Finally, what implications are there that widespread unrest in the middle east was so easily prompted and coordinated by anti-American groups? Wasn’t the effectiveness of Obama’s foreign policy predicated on the fact that it was universes apart from the Texas cowboy approach implemented by Bush?