Phew! Aren’t you glad that the Presidential debates are finally over? Don’t you wish that all the political ads, phone calls and emails were as well? Is it just me or has the political season seemed extra-long this year — and extra-nasty, too?
The final debate last Monday turned out to be far different from what I expected. I was surprised that it was Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, who was cool, calm and collected. While it was Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent, who came across as the feisty street fighter, throwing all sorts of punches (a few of them below the belt).
Remember, Obama was supposed to have a huge advantage in this go-round, just because he is a sitting President and Commander in Chief. Instead, he came across as a snarling and snarky underdog — albeit one who was certainly well-prepared.
More on that in a bit. But first, I want to comment on the biggest surprise of the evening: how lightly Romney let Obama off the hook. I thought there would be a huge outcry over the murder of four Americans, including our ambassador, at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the fact that the Administration tried to disguise what really happened there. Indeed, Bob Schieffer, the moderator that night, must have expected the same thing, since this was the very first question that he asked.
Two days before the debate, I told a group of friends that I hoped when the subject came up, Romney would look directly into the camera and say something like: “When I am President, I promise the American people that I will never allow my press secretary, my ambassador to the U.N. or anyone in my Administration to mislead the public as happened after the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11.”
That sure would have gotten the fur flying. Apparently, Romney decided that it was more important for him to “act Presidential” during the debate than to go for the jugular. Aside from one remark about an “apology” tour, I thought he was surprisingly gentle and restrained in his criticisms of Obama.
But all of that is really just an introduction to my main point today: It’s hard to have a meaningful debate about foreign policy when the two candidates agree with each other about 99 percent of the time. Let’s face it, folks: Both Romney and Obama are members in good standing of the establishment’s foreign-relations club. They both believe in an interventionist policy; their only disagreements are in relatively minor details.
Both supported sending our troops to Afghanistan. Both endorsed a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces there. Both insisted that the Afghans had to take responsibility for defending their own country.
But how about subjecting Germany to the same standard? Or Japan? Or Great Britain? Or any of the hundred-plus other countries around the globe where U.S. troops are stationed? How about insisting that some of these countries begin providing for their own self-defense? (Or maybe argue about Donald Trump’s suggestion that we at least bill them for our services.)
Foreign aid? They’re both in favor of it, with just minor disagreements between them. Our membership in the United Nations and its various regional subsidiaries? Nothing to argue about there, folks.
The whole “there’s nothing to debate here” attitude made me wish that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for President, had been on the stage Monday night. Or even better, that Ron Paul had won the Republican nomination. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, would have meant a real foreign policy debate.
Remember when George Wallace used to argue there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the two parties? Well, when it comes to an internationalist foreign policy, you can knock eight pennies off the total. Today, there isn’t 2 cents’ worth.
So does it really make any difference who gets elected on Nov. 6? Yes, I believe it does. Let me tell you why.
I believe that the biggest issue of this election — in fact, the single biggest issue of my lifetime — is the growing power and cost of government. Here in the United States, we’ve allowed the Federal government to become dangerously large and inefficient. (Thank goodness we don’t get all the government we pay for.)
Now, I don’t expect Romney and Paul Ryan to lead a crusade to bring back Constitutional government. In fact, I think it is likely that the Federal government will be bigger and more expensive when they leave office than it will be at the beginning of their term. That’s what happened during Ronald Reagan’s two terms, and Romney is no Reagan.
So, no, I don’t expect miracles if Romney wins. But I know what will happen if he loses. Obama has already made it clear that his big-government redistributionist schemes will go into overdrive. The Barack Obama who campaigned as a moderate will not be the same person who takes the oath of office in January (an oath to “preserve and protect” the Constitution that he has no intention of keeping).
If Obama wins, it will be Katy-bar-the-door time, folks.
Yes, it will definitely slow him down if he has to contend with a Republican majority in the House. It will be even better if Republicans win control of the Senate. But, frankly, the President won’t even need new legislation from Congress for much of what he wants to do. A lot of the increases are built into existing law.
And where he can’t get Congress to go along, he’s shown that he’s perfectly willing to appoint unConstitutional czars (he has 23 of them so far) and issue new executive decrees to achieve his aims.
So, yes, this election matters — maybe more than any other contest in my lifetime. Not because Romney is the greatest champion we could have; I hope I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t think he is.
But he’s sure a lot better than the alternative. If you can’t vote for Romney with enthusiasm, then do what a neighbor of mine says he’s going to do: Hold your nose when you cast your ballot.
In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, a group of likely voters was asked, “How much difference [will] the election make to you?” In 1996, only 21 percent said “a great deal.” By 2004, that number had increased to 45 percent. But this year, a clear majority of 55 percent answered “a great deal.”
I think they’re right. And that’s why this year, I’m going to hold my nose and vote for Romney. I hope you will, too.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.