In final presidential debate Obama mocks, Romney’s a rock

THE DAILY BLADE: President Barack Hussein Obama came into the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL, all primed to portray Republican challenger Mitt Romney as reckless and trigger-happy. But the contrast between Obama’s belligerent, confrontational attitude and Romney’s calm, reasonable tone undermined his central argument.


Having already convinced voters that his policies will restart our stalled economy, Romney only had to reassure them that he wasn’t going to make any squirrely moves that would alienate our allies, inflame our enemies or compromise our security. Try as Obama did to characterize his challenger as ill-informed or rash, Romney articulated a broad foreign policy philosophy that was realistic and consistent with his central focus on job creation.


Romney did not promise a sharp shift in the overall direction of U.S. foreign policy – rather, he argued that he would execute Obama’s failed policies better. For instance: 


I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaeda. But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is certainly not on the run.


Rebutting Obama’s attack that his strategy has been “all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East,” Romney explained that his strategy “is broader than [just killing the bad guys]” and will enable the Muslim world to reject extremism by using foreign aid and investment to “give them more economic development, better education, gender equality and the rule of law.” 


Obama responded with another attack:


I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years. But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.


The snarky schoolyard taunt prompted the first of several stern rebukes by Romney (“attacking me is not an agenda”):


Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East  … Russia I indicated is a geopolitical foe. … and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. …  I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I’m certainly not going to say to him, “I’ll give you more flexibility after the election.” After the election, he’ll get more backbone.


Obama eventually abandoned the effort to make Romney out to be a hot head and instead asserted that Romney did not have “different ideas” than those he has been pursuing for the past four years:


I’m glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking. You know, there have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did, but you’d say them louder and somehow that -- that would make a difference.


Oddly, Obama also advanced this argument by restating copying Romney’s strategy for preventing extremism from taking hold in Arab Spring states:


[W]e will help them with respect to developing their own economy, because ultimately what’s going to make the Egyptian revolution successful … is if those young people … are seeing opportunities. … They want jobs, they want to be able to make sure their kids are going to a good school. They want to make sure that they have a roof over their heads and that they have the prospects of a better life in the future.


At one point, Romney turned the tables and pointed out that he had called for “crippling sanctions” on Iran five years ago – before Obama even got into office – and said that “it’s good that we have them” now.


Romney had a chance to put some daylight between him and Obama when he described how he would better manage our complex relationship with China, and answered moderator Bob Schieffer’s question about whether labeling China a currency manipulator would start a trade war:


I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency. It holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren’t as competitive and we lose jobs. That’s got to end. … I will label them a currency manipulator, which allows us to apply tariffs where they’re taking jobs. They’re stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods. … We like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules. …


[T]hey sell us about this much stuff every year [Romney raises his arm about shoulder level], and we sell them about this much stuff every year [he raises his other arm just a few inches off the table]. So it’s pretty clear who doesn’t want a trade war. And there’s one going on right now, which we don’t know about it. ... And they’re winning. We have enormous trade imbalance with China, and it’s worse this year than last year, and it’s worse last year than the year before. ... [W]e can’t just surrender and lose jobs year in and year out. … I want a great relationship with China. China can be our partner, but -- but that doesn’t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.


Obama responded to Romney’s command of the issue with a petty gotcha attack: “[Y]ou are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.” But Romney more than evened the score a few minutes later with the same devastating critique of Obama’s record of failed policies and broken promises he made in the other debates, citing declining incomes, 23 million jobless Americans, 47 million on food stamps, the $16 trillion debt and being 9 million jobs short of an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.


Having swept aside the past four years, Romney devoted his closing statement to contrasting the nation’s future if Obama is re-elected or replaced – $20 trillion in debt or a balanced budget; less  take-home pay or larger paychecks; 20 million people out of work or 12 million new jobs; more people on food stamps or more people who have good jobs – and asking for the viewers’ votes:


We need strong leadership. I’d like to be that leader with your support. I’ll work with you. I’ll lead you in an open and honest way, and I ask for your vote. I’d like to be the next president of the United States to support and help this great nation and to make sure that we all together remain America as the hope of the earth.


Throughout much of the debate, Romney’s manner was measured whereas Obama’s mien was mean – and Romney appeared presidential by staying above the fray despite unrelenting provocation from Obama – at one point, his voice dripping with derision, Obama explained to Romney that “we these have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.” That Romney didn’t lose his composure – the mild expression on his face didn’t flicker – put the lie to Obama’s contention that he is apt to go off half-cocked into another war in the Middle East. As FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace put it:


I had been on a desert island for the last four years and … parachuted into this debate, I would have thought [Romney] was the president protecting a lead, and [Obama] was the challenger trying somewhat desperately to catch up. Obama was slashing, personal, cutting. … Romney was big picture, and seemed to have much more of an agenda for the future than the president did.


Politico’s John Harris said that when Obama “was making his point so aggressively, what was communicated in those exchanges was not strength and confidence … his overly aggressive strategy … had the effect of diminishing his greatest asset, which is the fact that he is already commander in chief.” Columnist Michael Medved observed that Obama made the same mistake that Jimmy Carter had when he debated Ronald Reagan:


[W]hen the incumbent president concentrates his energy on savaging his opponent, he concedes to that rival the status of frontrunner. If he focuses on trying to scare the American people about the prospect of the other guy as president, he implicitly acknowledges that this prospect is both conceivable and imminent. Why else would he want to provoke worry of the opponent’s proposals for the next four years rather than inspiring enthusiasm for his own?


Ironically, that sarcastic zinger diminished Obama the most – not just that he stooped as low as he did, but that he was factually incorrect on a matter involving military armaments. In response to Romney’s criticism of the budget sequester that will cut military spending at a time when our Navy is “smaller now than any time since 1917” Obama said:


I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.


Of course, as The Telegraph of London and scores of viewers who were Tweeting the debate noted, “the US Army does still use horses and bayonets (horses were used during the invasion of Afghanistan).”


One political observer scored the debate as a draw, “Obama won, but paradoxically Romney didn't exactly lose.”


Voters also rendered a split decision: A CBS focus group in the crucial swing state of OH gave the debate to Romney by a 3:1 margin. In a CNN flash poll 48 percent of registered voters said Obama won the debate, 40 percent said Romney did – but they deemed both candidates as being able to handle the responsibilities of commander in chief. Worse for Obama: Half said the debate had no effect on how they will vote, 25 percent said they are more likely to vote for Romney and 24 percent said they are more likely to vote for Obama.


In other words, this debate did not change the dynamics of the race and this morning, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd declared that having failed to “disqualify” Romney, Obama has run out of time to “requalify himself for a second term.”



Romney’s voice of reason

“Voice functions on multiple levels and in many ways, including through word choices, delivery, and tone, explains Barbara Apple Sullivan, founder of NYC-based brand engagement firm Sullivan, and “it provides the emotional connection that makes people respond to your rational message.”

Sullivan notes that Ronald Reagan’s voice was “graceful, confident, and resolute”; that the empathetic Bill Clinton spoke in “a conversational tone … to defeat more laconic candidates”; and that George W. Bush used a “plainspoken, halting, a Texas drawl” but “projected a more combative voice” after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks “at a time when Americans felt beset by a hostile world.” She adds that each voice jibed with how voters had sized up the candidates, and “each voice fit its moment in American history.”

Obama and Romney have also “carved out distinct voices in the hopes of connecting with the electorate,” according to Sullivan:


Four years ago, candidate Obama was hailed for his soaring and inspirational tone. And while he occasionally slipped up and went too highbrow (remember when he asked Iowa farmers if they had seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods?), voters embraced his lofty rhetoric and ideals of hope and change.


This time around, Obama has adjusted his voice for uncertain times. His tone is no longer in the clouds. … [H]e makes a concerted effort to avoid sounding scripted, pausing often and liberally sprinkling in phrases like “look, guys . . .” and “y,know.” His current tone strikes a balance between the intellectual and the colloquial … But the question remains: Does his voice sound presidential enough against that of a crisp candidate like Romney?


Romney has used his quick, matter-of-fact tone to guide his pitch to become America’s CEO-in-chief. …


Yet it also creates a significant gap in his comfort relating to the average voter … It took until the first debate for Romney to close this gap. The public still perceived his voice as swift and confident, but also found that it now conveyed a sense of humor and humanity that had previously been lacking.


The New York Times also highlights a quirk in Romney’s speaking style that the paper describes as “polite, formal and at times anachronistic” – he never, ever uses cuss words:


Mr. Romney, 65, has spent four decades inside the corridors of high finance and state politics, where indecorous diction and vulgarisms abound. But he has emerged as if in a rhetorical time capsule from a well-mannered era of soda fountains and AMC Ramblers, someone whose idea of swearing is to let loose with the phrase “H-E-double hockey sticks.”


“He actually said that,” recalled Thomas Finneran, the speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives when Mr. Romney was governor. “As in, go to ‘H-E-double hockey sticks.’ I would think to myself, ‘Who talks like that?’ ” …


His Mormon faith frowns on salty language, and so does he. A man of relentless self-discipline, he made clear to lawmakers in Boston and colleagues in business that even in matters of vocabulary, he “held himself to a high standard of behavior,” said Geoffrey Rehnert, a former executive at Bain Capital, the firm Mr. Romney started in the 1980s. Mr. Romney’s father, George, whom he idolized, shared the same style of refined and restrained speech.


Those around him are so accustomed to his verbal tics that they describe them in shorthand. “Old-timey,” said one aide. “His 1950s language,” explained another. “The Gomer Pyle routine,” said a third.


Asked about his boss’s word preferences, Eric Fehrnstrom, a veteran Romney adviser, responded knowingly: “You mean like ‘gosh, golly, darn’?”  …


Mr. Romney does have his own distinctly G-rated arsenal of angry expressions — “Good grief,” “flippin’,” “good heavens” and even the occasional “crap.”


Finneran, who admits that his “greatest achievement of all time” would have been to goad Romney into dropping the f-bomb (he never succeeded), said the governor never asked anyone to clean up their language, but people eventually “became a little bit more restrained” on their own.


Which begs the question: If Romney can have that effect on a Boston pol, could his good example inspire Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to renew his 2012 New Year’s resolution to clean up his potty mouth – he was still on the wagon in May, but this article about the Chicago teachers’ strike in September suggests that he may have had a relapse in closed-door negotiations with the teachers union chief Karen Lewis – for another year or two?


Editorial Note: A few tips for women who want to come off as confident and commanding in meetings, sales presentations or political debates. 


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  • October 23, 2012 lemonfemale wrote:
    Apparently I missed the best part. "We can't kill our way out" is powerful. Obama's kill lists won't work: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Like working retail on Christmas Day, you get rid of all the people in line and you have a longer line than you started with. We MUST combat them as a group. And then he compromises security in Benghazi to paste a picture of normalcy on a place so unstable the British had pulled out. I know Clinton took responsibility, but I would bet Obama set the parameters. The only Marine guard Stevens had was the one escorting his coffin.
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  • October 23, 2012 Cynthia Ruccia wrote:
    FYI---this Ohioan proudly voted for Mitt romney a few days ago....
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    1. October 23, 2012 The Stilettto wrote:
      Great! I'm going to cast my vote on Election Day.
      Reply to this

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