Monday, Oct. 22, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney sat down for their third and final debate of this election. The debate saw both candidates more subdued, less confrontational when compared to last week’s town hall face-off and in agreement on most issues of the evening. The subjects on which the candidates clearly differed were military spending and China.
The main segments, as designed by moderator Bob Schieffer, dealt with the changing face of the Middle East, America’s role in the world, military spending, threat of a nuclearly armed Iran, America’s backing of Israel, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the challenges China poses.
When asked how the candidates’ performances compare to last week’s debate, Ross Burkhart, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of political science, said in an email, “President Obama largely retained his sharpness from last week’s debate,” and saw Romney as “less sure-footed” and “rather passive in his refusal to answer charges from President Obama of inconsistency in his foreign policy views.”
In the first segment dealing with the new face of terrorism, Romney stated how although “a number of disturbing events” have occurred in the Middle East, his answer is not to “kill our way out of this mess” but “to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism.”
During this segment, Obama directly attacked Romney for his previous stance on al-Qaida stating, “A few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
On the issue of Iran developing nuclear weapons both Obama and Romney agreed they would do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability.
“As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
Romney echoed the statement and said, “Military action is the last resort. It is something one would only, only consider if all of the other avenues had been tried to their full extent.”
Regarding the foreign policy topics covered in the debate, Burkhart believes that the financial crisis in Europe and its impact on U.S. foreign policy should have been included as a significant segment as well.
He added, “Nor, surprisingly, did the moderator ask about North Korea.”
When asked who presented himself better, Jake Kelley, a junior majoring in mass communication, said, “Obama definitely had an advantage because he’s been dealing with foreign policy throughout this whole four-year term.”
He saw Romney as agreeing with most aspects of Obama’s foreign policy and basically only saying to Obama, “you could have done a little better.”
Although the debate’s focus was advertised as foreign policy, domestic issues concerning spending rose up as topics of discussion during the middle of the debate, and Romney persistently fought to stay on the topic of military spending.
His argument for an increase in defense spending, a bigger Navy and more ships led to this ubiquitous quote of the night by Obama: “Governor, we also have fewer horses and
“And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships,” Obama added.
The takeover by domestic policy during the debate should not have been surprising as “public opinion polling generally indicates greater public interest in domestic policy than foreign policy,” Burkhart said.
Another segment of the debate focused on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and there was not much contention on the topic as the candidates agreed on the final withdrawal date.
“We’re now in a position where we can transition out, because there’s no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country,” Obama said.
“When I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014,” Romney said.
When it came to China, the last topic of the debate, Obama said, “China’s both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules.”
However, Romney had a more aggressive stance on China and labeled it “a currency manipulator.”
“I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency. It holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren’t as competitive and we lose jobs. That’s got to end,” Romney said.
To Kelley, an important issue of the evening was the candidates’ treatment of China.
“The economy is the biggest thing which definitely involves China because they are our biggest trading partner, so I think Obama’s idea of bringing more jobs back to America and strengthening from within is a lot more important than Romney’s idea of holding on to this economic empire where we’re spread across the globe,” Kelley said.
The debate solidified Kelley’s decision to vote for Obama “because he is a lot more methodical. He’s not just going guns blazing, the old style of American presidents like George Bush which is who I would equate Romney to,” Kelley said.
Cameron DeLange, a sophomore majoring in international business, also identified Obama’s incumbency as an advantage. Although he believes that both candidates are qualified to be president, DeLange gives a slight edge to Obama based on last night’s debate.
“It seemed like he (Obama) had more experience with foreign policy as being the president the last four years, so a better understanding of what the country needed in terms of foreign relations with other nations,” DeLange said.
With the debates now over and the days counting down to Nov. 6, it’s time for voters to seriously consider the policies each candidate has advocated and go out and exercise their right to vote.