The CBS instant poll came almost instantly. Of the more than 500 uncommitted voters polled after viewing last night’s presidential debate, 53% said President Barack Obama won, while only 23% gave it to GOP opponent Mitt Romney – a decisive 2 to 1 victory for the president. Twenty-four percent said it was a draw.
The final debate theme was on foreign policy where the president, after four years of commander-in-chief experience, excelled over Romney who seemed out of his depth – often repeating the same policies as the president’s on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran. Romney’s parroting prompted the president to say, “You say you would do the same things we did, but you would just say them louder.”
Gone was the saber-rattling over Iran and Syria, as heard in previous Romney statements or by his running mate, Paul Ryan, in the vice presidential debate.
The president easily pinned his opponent as being “all over the map,” and Romney didn’t seem to help his case with his sometime incoherent answers and made-for-TV slogans.
Despite the foreign policy theme, both candidates used the final debate to pivot towards more domestic issues. Voters are war-weary and anxious for action on the economy. Both candidates addressed that in two distinct ways.
Romney vowed to keep in tact an overly bloated military budget that is full of pork for big corporate contractors. Incredibly, Romney told debate moderator Bob Schieffer to look at his website for the details after being questioned as to whether he could avoid military cuts, give tax cuts to wealthy and balance the budget.
Obama focused on “nation building” at home.
“[W]hat I think the American people recognize is after a decade of war it’s time to do some nation building here at home. And what we can now do is free up some resources, to, for example, put Americans back to work, especially our veterans, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, making sure that, you know, our veterans are getting the care that they need when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, making sure that the certifications that they need for good jobs of the future are in place,” he said.
Obama criticized Romney for wanting to throw money at the Pentagon – at least another $2 trillion – “that our military is not asking for.”
In the most “tweeted” phrase of the night, Obama answered Romney’s charge of supposedly starving the military budget. Responding to the assertion that the Navy’s ship capacity was the same as in 1917, Obama said sharply, “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. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.”
After the debate, the far right went into overdrive, attacking the president on that statement.
However, union leaders representing Navy shipyard workers in Norfolk and Newport News, Va., said they agreed with the president’s emphasis on the Navy’s capabilities.
“I am proud to represent the world best shipbuilders and the very best ship repair/maintenance workforce. I took no insult from our president’s remarks nor did I see any reason for anyone in the shipbuilding or ship repair industry to,” said Ron Ault, president of AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department. “He simply spoke the truth.”
Predictably, much of the foreign policy focused on Iran’s nuclear program and defense of Israel, which experts say, there was virtually no distinction between the two. There were no questions about a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and nothing on the Occupied Territories and settlements.
Not mentioned at all by moderator or candidates were climate change and poverty.
“Climate change remained the threat-that-must-not-be-named in the final presidential debate. Even the center-right Politico mocked the candidates for ignoring ‘a global climate crisis that could result in unprecedented sea-level rise, drought and food shortages,'” wrote Think Progress blogger Joe Romm.
The Nonprofit Quarterly suggested “Schieffer might also have asked a question about the World Bank’s commitment to eradicate world poverty, given that 1.3 billion people live on the equivalent of $1.25 a day or less …” but that didn’t seem to rank high among debate concerns.
Even with the shortcomings, commentators saw clear choices between the president and the Republican.
Writing in Salon, author Joan Walsh said, “Obama’s best line came when he told Romney, ‘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.’ That wasn’t just a good zinger, it’s a great summary of what’s at stake in this election. I hope voters ignore the supposedly savvy horse race coverage of this crucial debate, and pay attention to Romney’s lack of core convictions on foreign policy or anything else.”
Photo: This graph shows the amount of money spent in millions of dollars on military budgets with the United States dwarfing the rest of the world combined. President Obama said in the debate, “Now, keep in mind that our military spending has gone up every single year that I’ve been in office. We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined: China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, you name it.” (PBS/wide angle)