As John’s earlier post points out, there’s a revealing paragraph in today’s New York Times article on Obama’s dismal debate performance:
Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said
Notice that it’s Romney himself who Obama reportedly “views with disdain,” not Romney’s policies. Disdain is a harsh word, and in this instance it’s very personal. What exactly has Romney done to inspire such feelings in Obama? Clearly Romney does not feel the same way about his opponent (or is much better at hiding it).
Anyone who worried Mitt Romney would be overly cautious or avoid taking strong stances during his foreign policy speech today was proved wrong. Romney delivered a substantive critique of Obama’s Middle-East policy, and outlined his own strategy, including some bold positions on Syria and Afghanistan. The best soundbite of the speech, “hope is not a strategy,” will surely be a theme the campaign hammers home between now and the election. This is more than a catchy line; it’s an encapsulation of Obama’s Middle-East policy. In the Arab-Spring countries, democracy needs to be guided, supported, and encouraged. And yet Obama has seemed reluctant to use U.S. influence on this front.
Today’s speech indicated that this would be very different under a Romney administration:
America can take pride in the blows that our military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. These are real achievements won at a high cost. But Al-Qaeda remains a strong force in Yemen and Somalia, in Libya and other parts of North Africa, in Iraq, and now in Syria. And other extremists have gained ground across the region. Drones and the modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.
Had Hugo Chavez won yesterday’s presidential election in Venezuela by a landslide, the opposition would have justifiably accused him of committing massive electoral fraud. Especially over the last two weeks, support for the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, swelled to the extent that many local pollsters believed he would pull off a narrow win at the last moment.
Instead Chavez garnered 54 percent of the vote, against 46 percent for Capriles. That margin of victory helps Chavez insofar as it staves off charges of electoral manipulation. At the same time, it confirms that Venezuela is seriously divided, with almost half the country rejecting the ideology of Chavismo pushed by the regime, along with the corruption, incompetence, and contempt for democratic rights inherent to this system of government.
At the New York Times, Danielle Pletka writes that Mitt Romney needs to do more than simply criticize President Obama’s mistakes during his foreign policy speech today. He needs to provide an alternative vision, which he’s been reluctant to do so far:
Mr. Romney can make the case that when people fight for their freedom, they will find support — sometimes political, sometimes economic and sometimes military — from the American president. When Russians and Chinese demand accountability from their governments, we can stand with them and work with their governments to further common interests. When terrorists target us, we will not simply eliminate them with drones while ignoring the environment that breeds them. And when our allies look to us for support, we will help them fight for themselves.
Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”
This week’s “Saturday Night Live” had a sketch portraying “Day 3″ of MSNBC’s coverage of “the worst thing that has ever happened anywhere”—the debate on Wednesday night. This brilliant bit of parody (no, my wife doesn’t work there any longer, so this does not require a disclaimer) captured one of the strangest aspects of the liberal response to Barack Obama’s performance: The masochistic insistence on going over and over and over just how bad and awful and terrible Obama was.
But was Obama really that terrible? The argument he was rests on the presumption that he failed to make his case and failed to call Romney out. He did fail at those, but as Yuval Levin argues in today’s must-read blog post, that may be due more to the fact that he doesn’t have a case to make and can’t call Romney out so easily; he’s spent the year running against a caricature of Mitt Romney, not on the grounds that he has a positive agenda for a second term. Romney did not let Obama’s distorted descriptions of his policies go unchallenged, and Obama’s inability to come back at Romney is in part the result that all Obama has are allegations, not substantial criticisms.
There’s a reason why Democrats, liberals, and Obama camp followers are concentrating on the debate. They want to isolate it, scapegoat it, and push it over the cliff. They want to say it was a bad night, an off night, a misfire, a lousy game…because anybody can have one of those.