Romney’s Stuck In The 1950s, As He Goes In For Tie With Obama

Recently President Obama has wondered if Mitt Romney has been watching too much of the retro TV show “Mad Men,” as Romney seemed stuck in the 1950s. Indeed, in their final debate Monday night, Romney was obsessed with nuclear weapons, wants to build up the military, and regards Russia as America’s No. 1 foe in the world.

The president walked a thin line, maintaining a presence that many would call “presidential,” while aggressively pointing out his opponent’s changes of position. He tried to make Romney seem out-of-touch when he criticized Romney’s saying the Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1917. Obama pointed out a modern navy has aircraft carriers and submarines and doesn’t need as many ships. He said the military no longer has horses and bayonets, either — which is likely to be a soundbite in post-debate news coverage.

Obama hammered him for saying that Russia was America’s “No. 1 geopolitical threat,” when the president feels the most immediate threat is al-Qaida and anti-American Islamic radicalism. Whatever Romney meant when he put Russia on top of the list, he still had no answer. Like a drowning man reaching for anything that floats, Romney blurted out the name of Vladimir Putin at the end of his answer.

The president caught Romney for “Etch-A-Sketching” on setting a date to leave Afghanistan. He was so effective at calling out Romney, the latter seemed to change his position right before our eyes, saying U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. To my ears, that sure sounded like announcing a withdrawal date to our enemies.

Romney, for his part, delivered a line that must’ve had his Republican primary opponents frothing at the mouth, when he said of Middle East conflicts: “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” Clearly another Etch-A-Sketch moment. Romney didn’t just shake things up, he practically threw the toy against the wall, as he had been rattling his bayonet at Syria, Libya, Egypt and Iran for months.

Romney played small-ball, going for shipyard workers’ votes in Virginia by citing the downsizing the Navy, Jewish votes in Florida by “kvetching” over the president’s handling of Israel and Iraq’s nuclear threat, and undecided, war-weary moms with claims to be a “peace” president. For a man who organized pro-Vietnam War demonstrations in college, the word “peace” must’ve tasted bitter in Romney’s mouth.

Obama was so strong, Romney agreed with him on sanctions against Iran, drone strikes to take out al-Qaida leaders and trade sanctions against Iraq. It may well be that the Romney strategy was to play for a tie on foreign policy, because they felt Romney has an edge on the domestic economy. It’s as though Romney just noticed that Obama’s done a good job on foreign policy even as he insisted (untruthfully, according to CNN’s fact checker) that the president went on an “apology tour” to the Middle East, which he noted, in pandering for votes in South Florida, skipped Israel.

CBS’ Bob Schieffer was the moderator and like a good umpire in baseball, you didn’t notice he was there. He kept the discussion going and kept the times for both candidates roughly equal. Having said that, it’s quite possible Romney’s handlers told him not to quarrel with the host, to appear less prickly than he had with Candy Crowley in the second debate and more “presidential.”

Did the debate change the race? Probably not much, and that’s been the case after nearly all third debates. To put it in NASCAR terms, Obama was the lead car, with Romney drafting, sticking right on the president’s rear bumper, hoping to overtake him at the checkered flag.

Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

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  • mikberg

    Romney plans to cut spending by 5% across the board to pay for his tax cuts for the rich. Almost all government spending goes for jobs. Cutting 5% of the government work force will dramatically raise the unemployment rate immediately. He’s going to lay off 5% of the air traffic controllers, 5% of the firefighters fighting the wildfires in the West, 5% of the coal mine safety inspectors, 5% of the border patrol agents, etc. Will he send the laid off air traffic controllers to dig oil wells or send exports to South America?

    His “plan” is a joke.

    • Vmx2004

      Have another glass of kool-aid. You refuse to hear what Romney says and only listen to proven lies from this loser you call president.

  • Bellcurve1

    Obama didn’t change the dynamic of the race, and so he “lost”.  Romney is +6% at Gallup and +4% at Rasmussen and trending strongly in other polls as well.  Obama’s hope is that he can somehow win the electoral college in spite of losing the popular vote, by 2 or 3% or maybe more.  In the last 100 years it’s been done once, but then only when the popular vote margin was a fraction of a percent.  

    As the left begins to accept the popular vote inevitability expect to start seeing a lot of articles in the “news” media about how Obama can pull it out.  It’s possible, but the odds, and history, are very much against him.

  • keltcrusader

    “He said the military no longer has horses and bayonets, either — which is likely to be a soundbite in post-debate news coverage.”

    He said fewer, not none.

    • Vmx2004

      Yeah because in fact every soldier gets an M9, which IS a bayonet. So I guess there are NOT fewer bayonets. Horses? Yes, but not bayonets. Just another lie from a habitual lier.

      • keltcrusader

        You are wrong.  There are fewer bayonets now compared to the time period Romney was talking about. I have a nephew who is a Marine & he received bayonet training before they discontinued the training with with new recruits a couple of years ago.

        • Richard Garner

          Oh, big deal.  Bayonettes, horses — it was a figure of speech.  Yeah, a sound bite.  But, nonetheless, useful rhetorically to answer to Romney’s saying there are fewer ships.  Romney wants the population to believe that this is bad. 

  • Vmx2004

    Did you watch the same debate I did? He said exactly why he thought Russia was such a threat. IMO the president seemed like a four year old arguing on the playground. He talks over Romney while he is speaking and called for people to check the facts on what Romney said about the auto industry. What he said last night is exactly what he said in 2008 when Bush gave the first bailout check. You may not like your side losing, but as a media source you should not manipulate the facts.

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