One thing we know about televised debates, from the Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960, to the series of debates in this campaign, is that most of the content doesn't seem to matter. That is frustrating to supporters of the candidate who gives the most coherent and articulate responses, which in last night's debate was clearly President Obama. Mitt Romney just repeated campaign talking points without seeming to know what he was talking about, and without any kind of strategic foreign policy vision. Surprisingly often, Romney basically agreed with the president's policies in a number of important areas.
But in the all-important battle of tone and facial expression, President Obama projected a focus and intensity that I've rarely seen before. And he was ready to pounce on any opportunity Romney gave him to attack. Romney's face, when he was listening to the president speaking, often seemed pained. Either Romney secretly thinks he has some plan to win the election, and he doesn't think this debate matters very much. Or Romney knows he is beaten, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and he is just going through the motions.
It's a shame most voters don't realize how much foreign policy matters. It's the most important task of the president, the one area over which he has primary control. Voters understandably focus on pocketbook issues when they vote for president, but the president only has a limited amount of control over those problems. In foreign policy, however, our choice of a presidential candidate may mean the difference between war or peace. We should have learned that lesson after the 2000 election. Foreign policy is just as important now as it was then. And we have a president who is a master of foreign policy, facing an amateur who doesn't seem to have thought about these issues much at all. It's downright dangerous to think that choice doesn't matter all that much.