OK. The third and final presidential debate came and went Monday night. Score: Obama-2, Romney-1.
The president did not trounce the challenger in this last get-together, as he did in debate No. 2, but he scored at least three intellectual knockdowns in this last debate, mainly over foreign policy, and won convincingly, if not by a knockout. The challenger’s strategy seemed to be box, weave and clinch for dear life, as Mr. Romney surprisingly agreed with the president on almost every issue.
Intellectually, this debate was roughly reminiscent of the Michael Spinks-Mike Tyson heavyweight championship bout of the 1990s, with Spinks, as the challenger, visibly shaking in his boots even at the fight’s introduction by the ring announcer. Mr. Romney appeared similarly nervous and uncomfortable from the start of the debate, ceding the president’s command of the foreign policy subject to be discussed. Once the Spinks-Tyson bout began, Spinks tried to box and clinch, but Tyson would have none of it, and the champion knocked Spinks out in the first round.
Mr. Romney, apparently, had decided he would not be publicly embarrassed like that, and immediately started agreeing with the president’s positions in response to the moderator’s first questions, from the decision to do a surgical strike to get Bin Laden, to the president’s Middle East policy in general, and how to handle the China problem. Mr. Romney did such ultimate flip-flops in this debate that the president had to remark that Mr. Romney demonstrated an incapacity to take a firm position on any issue, that he was all over the map. That, said the president, was not allowed in a commander-in-chief, who always has to be clear and unequivocal to the American military and both to American allies and enemies. Sending mixed messages in the international arena was dangerous to American interests.
The president said that when parsing together the majority of Mr. Romney’s positions over the last 18 months or so, including his various campaign ads, Mr. Romney was not consistent on anything except mimicking the persona of a salesman who’d say anything he thought the customer wanted to hear in order to close a deal. In a president, said Mr. Obama, that was truly a fundamental flaw, and it would come back to haunt Mr. Romney, if he actually won on Nov. 6.
Mr. Romney, in his final summation in the debate, even made an appeal for peace on earth and good will to all men as if he were a peacenik of some sort, completing his Halloween masquerade impersonating a serious presidential contender. Commentators after the debate said Mr. Romney appeared to be trying to woo more women voters with that performance, but the FOX News folks generally lambasted Mr. Romney for straying so far from the conservative pathway in the debate. There has also been little evidence that what he said attracted any more female voters. This was a very strange final debate, when one thinks about it.
The president, however, for his part, brought his A-game again to the table and amply demonstrated that he is and should remain the commander-in-chief. He dominated the discussion with intelligence, clarity and wit. If the old truism is still operable that the most dangerous man in America is an educated Black man, Mr. Obama is a heavyweight indeed, and had no peer in that last debate. He well-articulated in a direct way his vision for the next four years–something he had to accomplish in that gathering–and it made both logical and common sense to the 60 million viewers. The instant poll of undecided voters taken immediately after the debate gave Mr. Obama a 53 percent to 23 percent edge, and he led in every other poll taken that measured favorability, who could most be trusted in tight situations, and who looked most comfortable as commander-in-chief.
What now? In virtually every ancillary measurement, President Obama is the leading man for the presidency. With both candidates now back to the traveling campaign-stop grind, focusing intently on Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, and a few other states, the battle has been rejoined for handfuls of votes in disparate places. According to the calculations of those who’ve covered tight presidential races before, the candidate who wins Ohio and Virginia will win the presidency. Unless the Republican dirty voting tricks prevail, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will almost certainly be won by President Obama. If that occurs, or even if only one-half of that occurs, it will be lights out for Mr. Romney’s chances. The president will have accumulated more than the 270 electoral votes required to win re-election.
So, the president’s campaign team now has to merely maintain the momentum achieved, not make any serious gaffes, and enjoy the victory on Nov. 6.
Let no one fool you that your individual vote does not count. It does. Every vote counts. The winner of the popular vote in each state–part of a winner-take-all process–gets all of that state’s electoral votes, whether the win is by one vote or by thousands. So, vote, everybody who can vote. Let your voice be heard.
It is the American way.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and ethical institute.
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