Last night's debate was what political experts call a "turd sandwich." Barack Obama and Mitt Romney provided 90 minutes of crap, and moderator Bob Schieffer happily mashed it all together between the blandest, stalest, white-bread questions he could find.
Obama supporters will say their man won the debate (which is true), while Romney fans will insist the Republican came across as the more composed candidate (also true). But both miss the bigger point: that this two-year campaign isn't a cure for what's ailing America but a symptom of our sickness.
Here's your 10-second breakdown of the debate:
- Obama scored several scathing zingers like when he told Romney that the 1980s were "calling to ask for their foreign policy back"
- Romney improved on his cranky previous performance with a calm approach. But by ignoring Obama's jibes, Romney looked more pusillanimous than presidential
- Bob Schieffer's questions could not have been worse if written by Fake Filipino journalists
- New Times LIVE BLOGS the Debate from Boca Raton!
- Barack Obama Makes Mitt Romney His B*tch In Second Presidential Debate
- Mitt Romney Wins First Debate By Being a Ballsy, Big Bird-Killing Bullsh*t Artist
The debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton was supposed to focus on foreign policy. Just 40 minutes to the south, Miamians could have expected questions about Hugo Chávez's recent electoral win, Cuba's surprise decision to eliminate exit visas, or rumors of Fidel Castro's imminent death.
Instead, Schieffer simply redefined "foreign" as "Middle Eastern" and ignored all countries not called Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria.
Only twice did Latin America come up: once when Romney accused Obama of offering to meet with strongmen like Chávez and Castro, and again when Romney said he wanted to double U.S. trade with the region.
With Latin America out of the discussion, Miamians could be forgiven for watching playoff pelota instead. But those that stayed tuned saw two clear arguments quickly take shape. Obama repeatedly accused Romney of "wrong and reckless" policies, while the Republican tried to paint the president as a failure both abroad and at home.
"Governor, the problem is that on a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's Afghanistan, whether it's Iraq, whether it's now Iran, you've been all over the map," Obama said.
"I don't see our influence growing around the world," Romney retorted. "I see our influence receding, in part because of the failure of the president to deal with our economic challenges at home."
Both candidates gave reasonably sharp, upbeat performances. Physically, however, Obama looked exhausted (probably from running the free world). Romney, meanwhile, was a pink mask of patrician patriotism.
Yet it was Obama who won the debate thanks, in part, to a couple of clutch one-liners. When Romney criticized the president for cutting the Naval budget, for instance, Obama blasted him back.
"You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916," Obama said. "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
Being commander-in-chief is not is not "a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships," the president said. He then argued that Romney's military spending plan "just doesn't work."
That exchange came after another early Obama zinger seemed to catch Romney off-guard. When Romney gave a rambling answer that largely echoed Obama's own policy towards targeting Al Qaeda, the president again went on the offensive:
Governor Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaeda; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years.
But governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.
The put-downs successfully portrayed Romney as out-of-touch with the job of a 21st-century president, while slamming the Republican's fuzzy budget math.
But other opportunities to contrast the candidates foreign policy visions went to waste, largely because Bob Schieffer did a piss-poor job asking the questions. They were as blunt as prison-issued sporks, muddled by the ancient anchorman's mumbles and multiple clauses.
For example, Schieffer opened with what should have been a tough question for Obama about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Instead, however, he told the candidates that he would "like to hear each of you give your thoughts" on the matter.
Nor did Schieffer ask any follow-up or clarifying questions. When Mitt Romney ignored two centuries of American foreign policy and eight years of incessant, unilateral war under George W. Bush to self-righteously claim that "America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators," Schieffer had the perfect opportunity to draw out a major difference between the two politicians and their parties.
Whereas Mitt Romney has a black-and-white view of American exceptionalism, Obama has spent the last four years pursuing international coalitions in sanctions against Iran and enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya (drone strikes are another story).
But Schieffer passed the buck to Obama. To his credit, the president answered with a pithy story about visiting the Holocaust Museum in Israel to "remind myself of the nature of evil."
Obama may have pulled out a win last night and stopped Mitt's momentum, but these debates did as much damage as good to American democracy. Instead of crystallizing the differences between the candidates, the contests just offered each candidate three more attempts to spin themselves and their stories.
Mitt set the tone early on with his mendacious performance in Denver, only for Obama to hit back hard in rounds two and three.
But whatever your scorecard says, the debates have distracted from some of the inescapable truths about the contest: that Mitt Romney would be the richest man ever elected to the Oval Office, a man so wealthy and insulated that he thinks poor Americans are pests pulling at the pant-sleeves of millionaire "job creators."
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That Obama has moved so far to the center that America practically has no progressive option in the November 6 plebiscite.
That Palestine has yet to be discussed in the presidential debates (Romney did utter the word tonight, at least).
But hey, we Miamians would have settled for five f***ing minutes on Cuba. Is that too much to ask for every four years?