Fact check! Ten Pinocchios! Five pairs of pants on fire! And I would bet that, about 90 minutes later, even Romney would agree that it was not that good to have been on the debate stage with Obama once again.
At age 65, Mitt Romney probably thought he was done with school. But he got schooled by Obama on foreign policy at what will be their last meeting before Election Day.
Romney wasn’t terrible. But he was on the defensive for much of the evening, a fine sheen of sweat popped out on his forehead long before the debate ended, and — worst of all — Romney was repeatedly forced to say he agreed with Obama on policy after policy.
This may not have been so bad, but Obama chose a good evening to be good. Having learned his lesson in Denver, having sharpened his skills at the second debate in Hempstead, N.Y., Obama unloaded on Romney in Boca Raton with a prepared theme: “Wrong and reckless.”
“I know you have not been in a position to execute foreign policy,” Obama said snidely to Romney. “But (yours) is wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map. It is not recipe for American strength or to keep America safe.”
And what could possibly be worse than being wrong and reckless with American lives? Being like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney!
“He’s praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment,” Obama sneered. “And taking us back to those kinds of strategies that got us into this mess is not ... going to maintain leadership and take us into the 21st century.”
Romney swatted back, but a little feebly. “Attacking me is not an agenda,” Romney sniffed.
Oh, yeah? Since when? In what country is he running for president?
The subject of the debate, which was very ably moderated by Bob Schieffer, was supposed to be foreign policy. But both candidates managed to pivot to domestic policy time and time again, and for the very good reason that domestic policy is far more likely to decide the election.
And there is another problem with foreign policy, which Romney demonstrated when he twice mentioned Mali.
Mali? Is Romney not aware that in an oft-quoted Roper poll sponsored by the National Geographic Society in 2006, 75 percent of American young people couldn’t find Israel on a map — but also that 50 percent couldn’t find Ohio? Or New York?
Obama stuck to digestible bites. Regarding Iran and its possible development of nuclear weapons, Obama said: “The clock is ticking. We will not let Iran perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere.”
But Obama also showed emotion. (Real or not hardly matters. This politics, after all.) When Romney criticized him for having made “an apology tour, criticizing America” as president and also for having skipped a visit to Israel, Obama pounced.
He pointed out that as a candidate running for president the first time, he had gone to Israel, and, unlike Romney, “I didn’t take donors. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, to remind myself of the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.” And that may be when the sweat first started glistening on Romney’s forehead.
Even when Romney tried prepared lines that had worked so well in his debate prep sessions, things still went wrong.
Romney was obviously prepared for Obama’s statement that he had killed Osama bin Laden.
“I congratulate (Obama) on taking out Osama bin Laden,” Romney said, “(but) we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”
That was early in the debate. Later in the debate, asked by Schieffer if he would continue Obama’s frequent use of drones to kill terrorists, Romney said that he would because it was an effective technology. Which pretty much sounds like killing our way out of a mess. And Obama’s prepared lines had a boom-lowering quality to them. Romney has frequently complained that our Navy has fewer ships now than in our past.
“We also have fewer horses and bayonets,” Obama mocked, pointing out that time moves on and presidents must do more than play giant games of “Battleship.”
Was the evening enough to be, in the now-favorite term of the press, a “game changer”?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. But Schieffer ended the debate by quoting his mother. “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.”
Even when debates don’t.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.