An Inconsequential Debate

The third presidential debate leaves me with little to say. I was ready to point out that despite the obligatory show of disagreement--American exceptionalism and overwhelming force on Romney's side; partnerships, caution, drone strikes and calculation on Obama's--the two men agree about most aspects of policy once you get down to specifics. So much for that line of analysis. No show of disagreement, rather the reverse. No memorable errors either.

As in the second debate, Obama seemed the more articulate and assured of the two. He certainly had the better lines (horses and bayonets, etc). His comment about the importance of clarity--a bit rich, coming from him--skewered Romney pretty well and cleverly linked the prevailing Romnesia narrative to foreign policy. But neither man had much of substance to say. Obama described his successes to good effect, and Romney mostly chose not to quarrel with him. Both gave heavily padded statements of goals--peace, security, competitiveness, other brave ideas--but never really engaged on how those ambitions can best be realized. (The key, both men agreed, is strong but prudent leadership. No doubt.) I was surprised Romney didn't press harder on Syria. Too risky, he must have calculated. Above all he had to avoid the suspicion that he would take America into another inessential war.

On Romney's behalf you could say Obama came off as a little too hostile, maybe too interested in Romney's flip-flops and not enough in what he, Obama, intends to do. You could say Obama began with a bigger advantage than in the other debates, because foreign policy especially favors the incumbent, and that Romney nonetheless did what he mainly had to do: offer reassurance that he wasn't a bomb-happy war-monger and present himself as a plausible commander-in-chief.

In all, I'd say, a win for Obama, but not a consequential one. It's hard to avoid concluding that if Obama had performed this well in the Denver debate--the one that first gave wavering voters permission to think seriously about Romney--this election would be as good as over. But he didn't.

Presented by

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Politics

Just In