Point/Counterpoint: The Final Presidential Debate


Point: Elena Kadvany

There weren’t many surprises in tonight’s presidential debate. Moderator Bob Schieffer asked the expected questions about Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan and China. As always, there were many important topics left undebated — Greece, the Eurocrisis, Mexico’s drug war. The candidates were pretty civilized, nitpicking on some claims but also agreeing on others.

Tonight’s debate wasn’t nearly as exciting as last week’s, but it did reaffirm some fundamental differences between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that we must consider, now more than ever, with renewed awareness.

One of the most glaring divides between Obama and Romney was actually illustrated by tonight’s now-trending quote: Obama’s “horses and bayonets” zinger. In response to Romney’s plan for Navy expansion, Obama said, “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”

The phrase might have been instantaneously turned into a comedic Twitter handle, Tumblr and meme — but it says something really important about Romney: His views on military spending, as well as his foreign and social policies, are rooted in the past. Obama also pointedly made this charge: “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.”

Romney likes to emphasize that voting for Obama means voting for another four years of the same policy that has gotten the nation into its current messes. But voting for Romney means voting for a return to past policies that are not in touch with what America needs in the here and now. This includes modestly cutting military spending, not increasing it. This includes asking wealthy Americans to contribute a little more so that the middle class is not as burdened and the country can make some key investments in energy, education and jobs. This includes working to support the Middle East not just governmentally and militarily, but also educationally in order to secure Afghan independence by 2014. These are all plans that Obama has put forth, not Romney.

But it’s now in the voters’ hands. The debate might not have swayed you from an already existing opinion, but it should serve as more food for thought. Obama has made his fair share of mistakes and failed promises, but he’s committed to policies of the present and future, not the past. Isn’t that the kind of president we want?

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Counterpoint: Sarah Cueva

President Barack Obama came out strong in the third and final debate of this election cycle, but this time so did Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Both candidates presented their views on issues of foreign policy with consistency and conviction, with Obama mainly defending his foreign policy of the past four years and Romney committing to what amounted to a more strong-armed approach to the issues.

Despite Romney’s essentially nonexistent foreign policy credentials, he held his own against the current commander-in-chief. When accused by Obama of flip-flopping on his view of the greatest threat to the U.S. being Russia, Romney countered with an assertion that Russia was the greatest geopolitical threat while Iran was the greatest national security threat. Such exchanges showed Romney capable of standing by a consistent foreign policy.

One area of relative inconsistency was the issue of military spending. Romney adamantly stuck to his commitment to maintain current levels of defense spending, refusing to buckle under accusations of hypocrisy from Obama. Though this has always been a part of Romney’s platform, his unwavering vow to maintain what many deem to be an unsustainable defense budget undercuts his pledge to close the budget deficit.

Other than this, Obama and Romney’s exchanges did not reveal many significant differences between their approaches to issues abroad. Both candidates discussed the need for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 and cited military intervention in Syria and Iran as absolute last resorts.

However, Obama came across as somewhat more conciliatory where Romney came across as firm, if not quite heavy-handed. Romney said that he would not only continue the economic sanctions placed on Iran by the Obama administration, but that he would tighten the already crippling sanctions in addition to employing diplomatic isolation.

Romney’s obvious intensity when it came to the questions of a nuclear Iran and war with Israel stood in contrast with Obama’s less committal approach to the issues, arguably demonstrating Romney as the winner of tonight’s debate.

Regardless of citizens’ views of the issues discussed tonight, Romney presented himself as more impassioned — even if obnoxious in his insistence that he get more time to talk — than Obama. Romney’s performance tonight showed a new side of the candidate, portraying him as more committed to his views and capable of defending them than in previous debate appearances. Let’s hope that he maintains this trajectory in the last few weeks leading up to Election Day.