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David C. Wilson Headshot

Red Flag: Sympathy for Weak Presidential Candidates

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Can anyone tell me Mitt Romney's foreign policy doctrine? You'd better answer quickly before Gov. Romney decides to change it. Let me help you out, because we now know the answer is "anything Obama would do, Romney would do... but better" (Question to self: Can you actually tighten "Crippling sanctions?").

Television experts and flash polls aside, it's clear that President Obama soundly defeated former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney during the final debate, but when some commentators argue that the GOP candidate came across as "presidential" or that Romney actually did an excellent job one has to wonder what debate they were watching on Tuesday night. More importantly, one has to wonder on what basis they draw these conclusions.

Here are some generic presidential attributes to test against Gov. Romney's performance. U.S. Presidents are direct and clear. U.S. Presidents answer questions and desire to be held accountable. U.S. Presidents are consistent. U.S. Presidents are calm in the face of fire. Most of all, U.S. Presidents are gracious. Which of these was Gov. Romney during his final debate performance?

Romney was sweaty and uncertain, and his policy positions were illusive, inconsistent and incoherent. Certainly, Romney took positions, but they were not "his" [sic] positions. Also, he was less than gracious in both his tone and behavior toward the sitting president and moderator.

Romney not only performed poorly, but he also failed to make a case for his stated policy positions. Here's one very telling Romney response from the transcript -- hang in there, it's a doozy (I'll add my Cliffs notes):

ROMNEY: Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to -- to kill them, to take them out of the picture. NOTE: Two minutes earlier Romney said we can't "kill our way" out of the problem... I suppose if we photoshopped people we don't like from the picture that would work, maybe?

But my strategy is broader than that. That's -- that's important, of course. But the key that we're going to have to pursue is a -- is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.NOTE: and... how would you have them do this? ... because clearly the Muslim world (a big place) is not rejecting extremism, right? Wait, Gov. are you saying that?

We don't want another Iraq, we don't want another Afghanistan. That's not the right course for us. The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the -- the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these -- these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world. NOTE: can you be a little more specific when you say "jihadists" or "anti-American groups?"... after all you're running for President.

And how do we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the UN, to look at how we can help the -- the world reject these -- these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we -- we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies. NOTE: So... Is this your policy or are you just saying it so we'll infer that you read some memos?

But what's been happening over the last couple of years is, as we've watched this tumult in the Middle East, this rising tide of chaos occur, you see al Qaeda rushing in, you see other jihadist groups rushing in. And -- and they're throughout many nations in the Middle East. NOTE: Is there evidence of al Qaeda rushing in, because I think we're after those guys... and since you won't be apologizing for anything, we might beef up security....

Really? This is Mitt Romney being presidential? This is a foreign policy position? This is not even a foreign policy opinion; it's Facebook chatter at best (... and I know me some Facebook).

Even seemingly objective pundits in the media seem to have been hypnotized into actually finding favor in Romney's performance. These media politicos find reason in the Republican spin that Romney executed a strategy well, even if he was woefully competitive. They've even argued that the president is ignorant about the military.

For example, after Obama dismissed Romney's critique of fewer Navy ships by saying there are also fewer "bayonets and horses," Republicans (and random military) personnel jumped in with, "hey, we still use bayonets and horses!" The media bought it for some reason, but the president didn't say we don't use them anymore, he said we use "fewer" of them. And, any military personnel would tell you that they haven't used a bayonet since basic training and that's just because no one wants to throw the things away (NOTE: my policy position on bayonets is based on 19 years in the Army). Let's be serious, the American military needs to be leaner and meaner, and Romney simply disagrees because he wants peace, and the best way to signal wanting peace is buying more ships and increasing the size of the military budget. (NOTE: and, we are really supposed to take this seriously?)

Here's the bottom line if you really wipe away the whipped cream on the high calorie banana split. There's no evidence that Romney's economic plan will work, there's no evidence he can create jobs at the national level and the state of MA was in the bottom four in job creation during his term, past actions suggest he doesn't have a problem investing in jobs overseas, he got federal government money to balance the Olympic budget, and he preferred that the auto industry jobs be resolved via bankruptcy. If Obama had this record I don't think anyone would vote for him, or the party that nominated him.

One hates to raise the issue, but could Romney be getting a break (a pass) because he's a rich white guy? Note that I said three categories, race, class and gender; so, I'm playing three cards, not one. It's not like it would be the first time, and it's not like the effects of Obama's identity relative to others hasn't been well documented. Researchshows that admiration for attributes (like wealth) protect targets who hold the attributes from negative emotions, while ambivalence or dislike for attributes (like race and class) make them a stronger part of the decision making calculus. While Obama is rich and a male, I cannot fathom Obama getting away with any of Romney's record. So, what else could it be? When facts don't explain the 'effect' it's time to raise the red flag (the blue and white flags were already mentioned).

By the way, I don't think there's anything wrong with being a rich white guy; some of my best friends are rich white guys? All the presidents have been rich white guys... Oh, wait...

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