President Obama and Governor Romney squared off last night for Round Three of their debate showdown series. If you're a Mitt Romney fan, you wanted blood, and may think the Republican was "too polite."
This was a debate on foreign policy. Let's face it: the big issue right now in the world is the situation in Libya. Not just the fact that we were attacked on 9/11 and our ambassador was killed, but that the White House mischaracterized (fancy word for "lied about") the attack. So when Bob Schieffer teed up the very first question for Romney about Libya, fans all across this great country reached for the popcorn. Finally! We'll have someone hold the White House to account for its lies and incompetence. Finally! Mitt Romney will have learned from Obama's answer in the second debate, and nail him hard for failing to provide security before the attacks.
Romney then did something stunning. Instead of angrily eviscerating Obama on his failure to heed the pleas for help from Ambassador Chris Stevens and then lying about the al-Qaeda attack for days, Romney went into a calm explanation of how he saw the world, and how he would approach it.
With apologies to James Taranto, by golly, we got Mali.
(By the way, Mali is apparently a country, and if I were a betting man, Obama has already bowed to its leader, the Mali Dalai, in front of a deli.)
What we did not get was someone, anyone, holding Obama to account for Benghazi. I'm sure a full investigation is needed, and the report will be ready and presented to Congress right after the election.
Once conservatives lowered their heads and expectations in this debate, it dawned on us that this was a strategy from the Romney camp. Instead of attack and look like a frothy-mouthed junkyard dog -- and Mitt Romney quite capably donned this look in the GOP debates in Florida -- he was going for positive, presidential, and doggone it, peaceful. No mawkish, hawkish sock-it-to-Pawkistan Mitt here.
This left Obama to be the scrappy fighter, throwing everything he could at Romney. He attacked the governor for his global visits. He attacked the governor for not waiting for magical results from sanctions. Wait, not just sanctions but "crippling sanctions." He even attacked Romney for classroom size, because without the teachers' unions having every advantage, we might as well learn Chinese now, just like in Firefly.
The difference in approaches underscored one thing: Obama, the so-called leader, is still fighting the last war. Romney, meanwhile, started these debates drawing blood when needed, so now he can finish up looking presidential. This is a perfect coda on the entire thousand-episode debate series for the GOP, where he started presidential and ended up scrappy. He's now eased back to presidential just in time to face the voters two weeks from today. Obama, ever the follower, flailed like a challenger, and it looked... just... pathetic. Romney's brilliant plan was to end classy while Obama ends crassy.
So, there was a lot of desperate angry flailing by Obama. He attacked with mounds of pent-up fury. That incumbent whose record he's criticizing must be in real trouble.