The final presidential debate was the last chance the presidential candidates had to talk in-depth about their vision for America. With the final debate being on foreign policy the candidates discussed America’s place in an ever-changing and chaotic world. Due to being a former governor of a state, Romney has little foreign policy experience so he needed to show he had a keen grasp of foreign policy issues. For Obama it was a chance to remind people of the strongest area of his Presidency, his foreign policy successes.
Romney began the debate on a weak note however he got better, and more confident, as the debate progressed. At the beginning, Romney gave the impression of a schoolboy who had memorised a chunk of information before an exam and was rushing to blurt it all out, to show all he knew, rather than give insightful analysis of events and reasonable solutions. Instead of looking like a statesman with a strong grasp of foreign policy he looked like a schoolboy. Similarly I thought both candidates appeared naive when talking about countries becoming friends, not allies.
If in the first debate Obama’s dour demeanour and lack of passion was a negative, in this debate it was a strength. Obama is calm, clear and collected. He comes across as the sort of person who wouldn’t lose his cool in a crisis but rather keeps his feelings hid internally; this has its drawbacks as he can sometimes look aloof, however this is exactly the sort of person you want steering the ship of state in a crisis. As the debate fell on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we were reminded of the monumental challenges a President faces and the importance of having a commander-in-chief who is both clear-headed and has foreign policy experience.
Content wise there was a lot of agreement between the candidates. One of the most interesting things about the debate was Romney’s, and the Republican Party’s, move away from an interventionist foreign policy, he is less willing to put American troops on the ground in the Middle East preferring a more intelligence-led, multidimensional approach. However Romney maintained America should retain a leadership role organisationally and governmentally in the Middle East if not in terms of actual troops on the ground. This is, of course, in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s interventionist approach. This is a reaction to the state of the economy at home and also the lessons learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama capitalised on this widely held sentiment by stating America should focus on nation building at home not abroad.
Obama performed more strongly and consistently in the debate than Romney did who started off badly and got better as the debate went on. Obama was most moving when talking about the closure Bin Laden’s death provided to a young woman who lost her father in the 9/11 attacks. Romney was strong when emphasising the security threats a weak economy presents and how it threatens America’s standing in the world. Romney was also convincing when talking about America’s relationship with China. However Obama hit back mentioning Romney’s alleged business links with Chinese companies.
The impact the debates will have on the election is debatable! One would think in light of the 24/7 media access people have to campaigns that debates would lose their impact. Surely issues like the economy will influence people more than how well a candidate performs in a TV debate. The debates gave Romney a platform to present an alternative vision for America. Being side by side the President elevated him from merely a former governor to a statesman and possible future President of the United States.
The debates have been mixed. Romney performed fairly strongly throughout all three but didn’t exactly set the world alight which he needed to do to unseat a President. His best performance came in the first debate which was emphasised by the absolutely dire performance of the President. Obama came back in the second and third debates buoyed by Joe Biden’s kick-ass performance in the Vice-Presidential debate which injected some much-needed momentum into his campaign. Obama won the last debate projecting the image of an experienced and clear-headed commander-in-chief. The most striking thing I took from the debates was how bad Obama performed in the first debate; that certainly was surprising and unexplainable. Overall the debates have been lacklustre with few memorable moments to go down in election campaign history.