Obama gets his first big dig in early on, during the topic of Benghazi and the Middle East, criticizing Romney for wanting more troops in Iraq as well as how he supposedly called Russia our biggest geopolitical threat. Of course, soon after this debate, Russia invaded Crimea and then hacked our 2016 election which has only made Obama look foolish now. But it’s important to note that Romney’s solution, building up our military, would not have solved 2016 or any other real threats from Russia we can expect in the future. It would have amounted to just more pointless and wasteful handouts to military contractors for constructing more tanks and guns the army doesn’t actually need.
Romney’s rebuttal “attacking me is not policy. Attacking me does not solve anything.” is extraordinarily weak–maybe the single weakest rebuttal in election history. This is first and foremost a debate, Mitt. That’s the purpose–to point out the flaws in your opponents ideas and assert that your own are superior. And coming after the last town hall where Romney did nothing but swagger all around and try to play tough guy…yeah. This sounds like a bully crying to teacher when his would-be victim cracks him on the jaw and makes him cry. Obama even gives Romney a look like “Oh give me a break.”
I think Obama’s talking points regarding Syria are revolting. One of the most disgusting oxymorons ever concocted, “moderate rebels” is trotted out here. Obama talks about us arming these “moderate rebels” and how he’ll be sure to consult with Israel about what happens. As if being an ally of the US gives you the right to dictate another country’s own domestic future. Both candidates stroke their dicks about how they’ll overthrow Assad and how great everything will be once he is gone. I remember being incredibly opposed to the warmongering rhetoric about Syria back then, and time has not changed my opinion. Watching this now, I’m getting serious Iraq War deja vu, and it really shows how once Obama got into office, he really wasn’t so different from Bush or the Republicans after all. I don’t know if it’s just the President getting new info from the CIA/NSA/whoever once they get elected that changes their minds about foreign intervention, or if they’re directly threatened into compliance in order to preserve the illusion of democracy while the real powers behind the throne make all important decisions. In any case, I think it’s sick that we as a nation are so arrogant we presume to play with other countries as though they exist to be our chess pieces. We have no right to insert ourselves in foreign Civil Wars (except in sending medical aid with the express consent of the electorate) unless directly asked for help. We don’t get to call ourselves an enlightened democracy if we conduct foreign affairs according to the principle of “might makes right.” Especially when the lives, money and resources we waste doing so could be so much better spent here at home building, not destroying.
Once again, Romney asserts a position that contradicts his own internal logic/ideals. He goes on about how America is “blessed with” the position to be the upholder of peace and ideals in the world “we didn’t ask for it.” And he goes on to say we can’t accomplish this supposedly crucial task hoisted upon us because of our debt and failing economy. You can’t say we were blessed with something we didn’t seek out only to bemoan the fact that circumstances now prevent us from continuing such a path in the future, that’s internally inconsistent reasoning. And Mitt, we have a debt and failed economy because for too damn long you Washington jokers have been playing geopolitical chess against Russia and China rather than watch out for us at home. How do you think we went from the biggest surplus in our history to the biggest deficit? The Iraq War. And here they both are, just a decade later, patting themselves on the back for invading Libya (which Obama later admitted he regrets doing) and planning on getting more involved in Syria. All without even a trace of irony or shame. Debt is bad! We have to get rid of the debt so we can invade more countries and get in even more debt! It’s a position which makes no sense, and I wish the moderator had called them out for it—that’d be one time when a moderator’s intervention would have been warranted.
In fact, when asked next “what is America’s role in the world?” Romney gives the usual expected hoopla about how we’re the defenders of truth, justice, elections and peace. He then specifically says that when elections are held…people tend to choose peace. The irony is just maddening. Yes, they do. I wish our Presidents here actually followed what we wanted, Mitt. Obama, we elected you because you promised an end to Iraq, do you remember? And here he is proud of Libya and talking about doing the same to Syria. So much for that peace we voted for. Remember the 2000 debates? Bush even framed himself as the peace candidate and all but called Gore a warmonger when Gore talked about America playing a more proactive role in the world. So, even in that case, we voted for peace and were lied to. Really incredible irony, or perhaps hypocrisy that Romney doesn’t seem to recognize with that specific talking point here. I cannot explicitly remember if the word “terrorism” was mentioned in the 2000 debates—Mitt claims it wasn’t—but in any case it’s a moot point because it was mentioned in earlier debates (I believe it was 1980, 1988 and 1996) and in earlier DNC and RNC speeches and primaries. Romney brought up this talking point to say how we need to have a strong military because “we don’t know what the world may throw at us” again, just after acknowledging that people want peace. The cognitive dissonance is actually incredible. [And after 2020, we need to acknowledge that not all threats can be solved by just throwing more soldiers at them. All our wasted military buildup did nothing to help the average Joe during a pandemic and subsequent recession did it?]
Throughout the debate, there’s a lot of instances of Obama dictating to Romney “Governor Romney, you said this…” and then painstakingly destroying that supposed position of his. Each time he does so, the camera cuts between Obama looking excited and suave, with a big smile on his face, and Romney looking a strange combination of pissed off and almost clueless. He looks like he’s thinking “fuck this guy…I don’t know what he’s saying…but I fucking hate him.” (Not that I actually believe Romney is that clueless, but I’m just saying that’s what his face is doing.) When Obama smiles, he looks approachable and likable. When Romney smiles, he genuinely looks like he’s putting on an act. Maybe that’s not fair to say, and it’s totally possible this is my bias showing, but that’s one observation that struck me.
Now, with that in mind, the most fantastic single example of what I just described in the previous paragraph is Obama’s famous comeback “you say we have fewer ships in the Navy. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. Because the nature of war has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers. Planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater—nuclear submarines” Obama says this after Romney attacks him for having less ships than in WWII. I’m glad Obama called out that stupid misleading attack. Seriously, we have the biggest military BY FAR. Like, bigger than almost every other country’s put together. How many more ships which we don’t need would you have us build, Mitt? And again, not just the rhetoric but the optics of this moment are what make it so funny. Romney just sits there with a big dumb grin on his face while Obama mercilessly, enthusiastically, and humorously eviscerates his argument. He’s like the kid who laughs at a joke, not realizing that the joke’s actually on him. Or, perhaps, the person who’s really pissed off at a joke made at their expense, but cannot think of a decent retort, so they just sit there sporting a forced smile paired with mismatched hatred in their eyes. It’s very satisfying to see.
The next question pisses me off. This may make me lose some potential readers, but I’m no stranger to controversy. This question “If Israel is attacked, would you consider it an attack on the US?” is ridiculous in itself. $100 says they’d never ask that about any other country. I know Israel is our ally, but so is South Korea, Japan, most of Europe and Canada. Why is the focus always on Israel, why do we give them so much money, why does every candidate have to go to such ridiculous lengths to pledge their undying loyalty at every major appearance, especially when their leader, Netanyahu is openly disrespectful to our President? On that note, I’m sick of the hate-mongering of Iran even now. A big part of this debate is both candidates, especially Romney, stroking their dicks over who’d impose harsher sanctions on Iran, and fear-mongering over how “Iran is totally gonna get a nuke any second now!!!!” Eight years later? Still no nuke. The neoconservative agenda is an isolated Iran, toppling every other Middle Eastern nation one by one as stepping stones to Iran. You see both candidates supporting that agenda here with their comments on Libya, Syria and now Iran itself.
Romney’s ridiculous rebuttal about how “we’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran!!” and how Obama “skipped Israel—and they noticed” when he went on a speaking tour, and Romney’s “America does not dictate to other countries, Mr President. We free other countries from dictators!” are all pretty silly. It’s just more of Mitt trying to look like a tough guy, and more sucking up to Israel to the point it’s almost laughable. “Oh, you didn’t give a speech there! Oh boohoo you hurt Israel’s feelings! You don’t love Israel as much as I do!” Give me a break. You want to talk about balancing the budget? How about you start with standing up to AIPAC, Governor Romney?
While the fear-mongering and neoconservative geopolitical posturing in this debate all disgusts me, I do have to admit I was moved when Obama goes into the story of the woman who got a call from her dad on 9/11 just before he died and how us getting Bin Laden gave her closure. I agree with him that getting Bin Laden was an important, powerful gesture that if a murderous non-state actor does something like that to us, we will find them. If it’s true what Obama says about Romney, that he (Romney) said “we shouldn’t move heaven and earth to get one man” while also saying he’d put more soldiers in Iraq, in addition to all his strongman rhetoric about Iran and Syria this debate, that’s atrocious to me. It’s the same mistake as Bush, losing sight of why we (supposedly) got involved in the Middle East in the first place, and just using 9/11 as an excuse to get us into neocon nation building and war profiteering.
It’s also really annoying hearing Romney say we have to stop the formation of extremism in the Middle East without acknowledging its source—Saudi Arabia. When talking about the epicenter of extremism he again goes back to Iran. And in a different question when asked about the greatest geopolitical threat to America Romney says a nuclear Iran, a scenario which still doesn’t exist 8 years later. In the first debate, his big talking point was “leave it to the States,” and the second debate it was all about “tough” rhetorical questions posed to Obama, in this debate his big annoying repetition is the “nuclear Iran!” boogeyman. I will say though, Romney makes a good point about how China wants peace and stability in the world as we do, but the trade imbalance and counterfeit products are nevertheless a big problem which need to be addressed. I actually think Obama’s attack: “well you invest in companies that went to China!” is pretty weak and underhanded. If it makes financial sense to invest, why wouldn’t Romney? It’s part of why Trump making his products in China doesn’t bother me quite so much as perhaps it ought to, because these people are in business, they do what’s best for their business, but they know it’s bad for the country hence why they got involved in politics to change it. Sounds logical to me. The point is we need to change the laws and incentivize companies to stay; don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Mitt’s Meltdown & Conclusion
After Obama attacks him on China, Romney pulls out the same pathetic “ugh stop hitting me!” defense. (“Attacking me is not gonna solve the trade deficit with China.”) Well, no duh Mitt. But attacking you DOES convince the people that Obama would handle the situation better than you would, which is kinda the point of debates in case you didn’t know. He then launches into a ridiculous barrage, criticizing Obama for investing in Tesla. “That’s not investing in research, that’s investing in a company!” Why are the two mutually exclusive, Mitt? And besides, if there’s one company doing the most for innovation in cars, specifically electric cars, it’s Tesla. Romney’s continued ramblings about wanting to make America attractive to “entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses” seems to directly contradict his own confused attack here. This might just be the clumsiest attempted zinger in a debate I’ve ever seen. I don’t think even Romney knew what he was trying to say, honestly, just rambling and hoping he’d eventually get a hit in somehow.
The look on Obama’s face while all of this goes on is priceless; just a mix of bemusement and satisfaction. By this point even Obama himself knew he completely owned Romney not just in these debates, but in the election. His reaction: to laugh it off and say “I’m happy to respond governor…you’ve held the floor for awhile (chuckle)” is like a parent putting a toddler in their place. Like “ok sweetie. You’re running away from home because you don’t wanna eat broccoli? Alright, see you back here in 10 minutes, haha.” What makes it even more embarrassing for Romney is after Obama begins to respond, Romney literally yells “You’re wrong! You’re wrong!” looking even more infantile–and foreshadowing Trumpian debate tactics to boot. I suspect that both the earlier “fewer horses and bayonets” line as well as the “you invested in China” line got under Romney’s skin and shook his confidence. He already started out this debate visibly deflated and less assertive than his disastrous town hall performance, and those two extra zingers seemed to drive home the fact that he unequivocally lost this election. Romney ends this debate as a stuttering, unhinged mess. It is honestly the weakest I’ve ever seen a general election candidate look against their opponent in a debate (possibly sans Bush in the third debate of the ’92 cycle).
Romney’s response after Obama shatters his “you invested in Tesla!!” attack is even more rambling and sad. He keeps saying stupid, impulsive lines which mean nothing like “I love teachers!” eliciting a suppressed laugh out of Obama. The entire time Romney’s voice sounds desperate and almost scared, and he’s not building to any apparent point, just stammering in an attempt to see if anything sticks. You can tell Romney’s waiting for the clock to run down by this time, and probably cursing himself for not prepping harder. The whole time he’s talking from here on out, Obama is mercilessly staring him down with a confident, suave look on his face. The look that says “I’ve got this election in the bag.” Even the moderator gets a dig in at Romney’s expense when he says “I think we all love teachers” which understandably inspires a laugh from the audience. This was probably the most humiliating way for a debate to end for any candidate—especially considering it’s the final one when there are no do-overs.
Once again, I have avoided picking winners in all previous debates. But in this third round of the 2012 cycle, as well as the second, I really have to point out how objectively terrible Romney was. Again, I’ve been very upfront about my bias against him, but even from an objective lens, just looking at strategy and poise, Obama clearly mopped the floor with Romney. In terms of oration and charisma, these two have got to be the most lopsided debate partners I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen every single general election Presidential debate.
It’s funny because I recall at the time how everyone was saying Romney won the debates, at least the first one. Watching it, I didn’t get that impression at all. It seemed pretty even to me, if anything. But with the second and third, it was an unquestionable Obama blowout. Both candidates came out swinging in debate #2, Mitt to capitalize on his supposed win and Obama to regain lost ground. Then Mitt absolutely, unequivocally got his ass handed to him, and I believe was unnerved by the time the third began. He drops the tough guy act and resorts to “attacking me wont solve XYZ” which reeks of desperation, and even submissiveness. Obama basically talks to Romney like he’s a little kid, and the more the debate drags on the more that treatment is warranted. By the end Romney is literally talking like a child would if put on that stage–just a whimpering, aimless mess of jello, unable to string together a cogent zinger. Looking at their facial and body language, you see Romney lose confidence and Obama gain it as the thing debate comes to a close.
If you watch no other cycle I’ve linked to, watch these from 2012. They are by far the most entertaining and insightful. Romney is such a perfect example of what not to do in debates and vice versa for Obama.
I hated both these candidates and was a big supporter of Ron Paul. It is a shame that America rejected the best candidate for president to elect a carbon copy of Bush except for a better suntan. This election was a big disappointment all around for me. I disliked everything about Obama and Romney. Your analysis shows their actually was some difference between these two very flawed candidates. For me before this I thought of them as practically the same. Still think Ron Paul much better than either of them. This election caused me to give up hope on the American electorate and their ability to make wise political decisions. Your analysis as I said above did help me see that there was a difference and that Obama was probably actually the lesser evil. Thanks for your fair analysis.