It was hard to tell if Monday night's presidential debate was really the "foreign policy" debate we were all promised as Governor Romney and President Obama jumped back to the economy at every possible moment. It's easy to lay some of that blame on the moderator, Bob Schieffer, but the candidates also dodged the real discussion topics.
Substance and quality were lacking in the debate. As one Pakistani citizen put it, "Even though the Middle East was a central topic in the debate, there was no mention of state of the Palestinian refugees and what either candidate hopes to do in encouraging peace talks to resume. Furthermore, neither candidate discussed drone attacks in Pakistan and the civilian causalities caused by them. As the debate kept being reverted back to the economy, issues of international aid, the UN, and climate change were ignored. At the end of the day, Romney and Obama had similar opinions regarding Iran, Middle East and Israel."
Let's take a look at some reactions from young adults across the battleground state of North Carolina:
1) Everett Lozzi '13 remained unwaivered by the debate, identifying this frustration with the past four years of office and keeping firm in his opinion that significant changes would not occur in the coming four years. "The last 4 years have been a disappointment for those Americans who voted in 2008 for the protection of civil-liberties and a change in America’s foreign policy. The debate tonight highlighted the fact that there is no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. Big issues, such as the National Defense Authorization Act, the renewal of the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo Bay, undeclared wars, increased military spending, and drone strikes, received little or no attention in tonight’s debate. Much of the post-debate analysis will cover style or demeanor with the understanding, all along, that we will not see any fundamental changes to the military-industrial-complex in the next 4 years."
2) Jeremy Saxe '15, had a similar outlook, recognizing that, "there will be few foreign policy shifts with either a second term for President Obama or a first for Governor Romney. Both see the United States having a smaller role globally; a 'shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere,' rather than policing and bullying the bottom of the hill. A key difference in policy, however, is the continued expansion of the U.S. military versus limiting growth. Though both differ on military spending they see U.S. debt as a large national defense issue and pointed to their individual economic plans as solutions. Stylistically, both Romney and Obama continued to seep dislike of each other. Romney improved after the second presidential debate and exited seeming presidential. Obama, free from expectations and further debates, let loose and attempted to get more laughs than he received at the Al Smith Dinner. Ultimately, the electorate may see this move as either snarky or confidence exuding from a President who saw his opponent arguing his policies back at him."
3) And continuing on with similar perspectives, Connor Belson '15, could not determine a clear winner from the debate. "In a debate over foreign policy, the two candidates discussed very little foreign policy. Instead, the pair focused on degrading comments and negativities of the other. The debate came across as a final opportunity for both Obama and Romney to assert any remaining disagreements yet to be presented through the debate series. Obama prepared aggressively and debated aggressively—his comments developed and sharp when compared to the first debate. Romney, however, rebounded with aplomb to many of Obama’s arguments. Experience shined in the third and final debate. In terms of foreign policy, Obama’s successes over the last four years, including the capture of Bin Laden, cannot be ignored. No side appeared to have established a firmer or stronger foreign policy argument; the pair agrees on actions that need to occur in the future, even if they differ on some of the methods by which this will happen. Foreign policy has become a common goal of the United States, no longer a qualified topic for determining a “winner” of the debate. Both sides present future goals that need to be addressed within the next term of Presidency, and both sides contain agreeable solutions. No legitimate winner can be determined from such a debate."
However, others felt more comfortable handing Obama the win on foreign policy.
4) Jake Lewis '14 said he "can only imagine that Mitt Romney’s strategy going into the debate was to agree with everything the President said. It was clear Obama knew much more about foreign policy, as expected considering his past four years in office. I found the only real difference between the two came when discussing the Middle East. Barack Obama was in support of finishing our objectives in Afghanistan and then leaving the country with an Afghan security force in place, while Mitt Romney insinuated that without an American presence there is a risk that the Pakistani government will implode causing future security issues for the states and our allies in the region. Aesthetically, Mitt Romney’s “seven point plan” clearly laid out how he will deal with Iran if he is president. Obama did not present an orderly plan like this in the debate, which could portray him as scattered and unorganized. I believe that his lack of a checklist when dealing with Iran shows his touch with reality, in that historically in the Middle East not much goes exactly according to plan. Overall I’d give the victory to Obama, as most of the thoughts in the debate were his. However, agreeing with the president on just about everything proved not to be a bad strategy for good old Mittens."
5) Similarly, Austin Root '15, outlined how high the stakes were for Romney to build credit and foreign policy clout, which was not very successful. "Romney had a lot to lose tonight. Judging by the amount of sweat on his brow, Mitt was well aware. Obama came in strong, with his usual denouncement of Mitt’s inability to do simple math (Mitt’s plan to balance the budget is more enigmatic than his tax records). The trite criticism of Obama’s handling of Israel and Iran seemed to land Mitt a few points with key demographics. All in all, the debate was rather stale. We have seen and heard every talking point the two have made in previous statements and debates. Frankly, I am very excited (and nervous) about November sixth – mostly because I will not have to receive any more solicitations from Obama or Romney."
6) And here Annie Clark '10 brings it all home with the general consensus among many young adults in North Carolina: "President Obama showed up tonight; he presented himself as a prepared, confident leader. This is a glimpse of the Obama we saw for four years, but was unimpressive in absentia during the first debate. This was an Obama speaking from presidential experience, as someone who has clearly made many tough decisions - I had almost a visceral reaction to hear him speak occasionally. I appreciated the fact that Obama consistently fact-checked Romney on the spot. Obama did get snarky with the “horses and bayonets” comment, but at this point, I think that’s what some voters wanted. It seemed like he was trying to possibly “catch up,” but overall I think Obama won the debate on points.
Romney used a lot of buzzwords, and much of what he said was truthfully: “I agree with what Obama did, but I would have done it differently,” without offering any specific examples. As a former teacher, I don’t want to hear Romney say “I love teachers,” I want policies which support education; as a supporter of Detroit, I don’t want to hear “I love cars,” I want polices which support growth.
Regardless, due to Romney’s aggressive nature in the previous debates, I think his strategy was to tone down perceived and prior extremism. He seemed to want to appear more moderate for undecided voters, and I think he did a good job achieving that. I can see how if not evaluating the issues at hand, particularly social ones, that one might describe the debate as close. However, I don’t see how Romney made any headway with women or minority voters in particular. Finally, while strategically it behooves both candidates to discuss domestic policy, I would have appreciated a focus more on the questions, and for that, we need Raddaz back."
Apart from the horses and bayonets, there's a common trend floating among young adults tonight..."President Obama sunk Mitten's battleship."