Just a few observations on last night’s third presidential debate:
— It was another excellent showing by the president on style…he’s not amused that Mitt Romney wants his presidency: points for the president on articulate outrage at his presumptuous challenger.
— It was another win, but by diminishing returns, for Gov. Romney on substance: the president has no defense for his failed four years of economically treading water…but the Governor wanted for the most part to say that he is “Old Reliable” on foreign policy, and that’s okay, he implied, because there is no world-threatening crisis for which he’s necessary to replace the president. But how about Benghazi; how about Iran? No catastrophic danger in President Obama’s leadership, or at least none that Romney articulated.
— The best line of the night was Romney’s “Attacking me is not an agenda.” Exactly. Well, in combination with a frontal attack on the president’s failures in domestic and foreign policy it could have been a dispositive argument. And there was the now almost famous litany of economic problems on which Obama has made no headway, but in foreign policy there appears to be no crisis of leadership articulated by the Governor, especially in the bungling of the Libyan assassination and killings and clueless Administration rhetoric therein.
— The candidates disagree little on foreign policy, so the game is down to economic policy. Gov. Romney focused again on his slightly modified list of chronic economic failures, but again, the Obama rhetoric was that this election is about the inconsistency of the challenger. That needs to be pointed out repeatedly, and that one great line of Romney’s did so: “Attacking me is not an agenda.” One great line does not a devastating debate make, however.
— A somewhat parenthetical point on the excellent moderating by CBS’s Bob Schieffer. That’s how you moderate a debate: you cannot be a principal; you cannot be an issue by selectively fact-checking on disputable issues. CBS has done much to reverse the prevailing liberalism of Dan Rather and Katie Couric. Too bad the other major networks have not. Who is a disinterested commentator or reporter at CNN other than Wolf Blitzer?
All in all, a win on points for Romney, but such a win was not what was needed to seal the deal.
Governor Romney has two weeks in a close race to move the needle forward, a strategy for which he should have used the debate.
Richard Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University and is the author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)