Tuesday, October 23, 2012

End Game

The focus groups mostly gave it to Obama--and well they should: Romney more or less agreed with everything Obama had done--just not with how he did it. This is, to my mind, sensible:
  1. As I said yesterday, none of those problems have good solutions. Certainly none of them have popular solutions.
  2. For those like bombing Iran which might have a definitive solution, you can't say that on a national debate.
  3. Romney is doing the run-to-the-center move expertly if a little late--so he came out as the Peace-President saying 'peace' over and over. This is good in that it gives no one on the fence a reason to vote against him--and hawks don't believe that crap anyway.
I think Obama did win the debate. I think Romney squeaked through the Commander In Chief test well enough to chalk up a 'win' for him too. If there is poll movement it could be important--but I suspect we won't see anything definitive above the noise level.

Where Do We Stand?
The EV counter sites put Obama at a reasonably consistent 60-65% chance to win (or around 250-290 EV if you're counting that way). That's close. In the final 14 days until the election here are things to watch for:
  • Really forceful / dirty ads. Will we see a tone-shift if someone gets desperate?
  • The Ground Game. Team Obama claims they are "up" in all-important Ohio but we really have no way to tell. More Republicans have requested absentee ballots in some states like Florida but that's usually how it works.
Where Was Libya? The Eurozone?
Judging things by their negative-space is often enlightening. There were no fireworks around Libya--one of Romney's major talking points like, forever. There was nothing about the Eurozone currency meltdown either. Why?

Libya: The problem with hitting Obama with Libya in a foreign-policy debate is that he's likely to ask what he'd do differently--and not with the specifics (provide security: duh) but with the Arab Spring in general. Remember: the point isn't that Obama just "lost the letter requesting more guards" but that he should resign because he has bungled the whole Middle East. For Romney to attack that in a debate all about Foreign Policy he'd have to have a lot of very questionable specifics about things like Egypt, Syria, and Kadaffi which, as I said, don't have easy or cheap answers. Arming student radicals during the Green Revolution in Iran would mean, basically, going to war with Iran. As he's not ready to say that in a cross-examination environment he's not ready to make that case.

Eurozone: Again, it's to no one's advantage to bring this up--you're just a doom-sayer and there's not much America can do about that anyway, much less the president. One thing that might come up would be that the big banks are probably not lending because if there's a Euro currency collapse having vaults through of USD will be a pretty good position.

Bayonets and Horses
Without question the quote of the night was the one where Romney says we have fewer ships than in the 1960's and Obama counters we also have fewer bayonets and horses than in 1912. This ignores the fact that we still do have and train with bayonets (but, uh, anyone making that claim needs to know that you almost never affix your bayonet to your weapon in modern-day ... seriously? Do you see images of soldiers in Afghanistan with knives sticking out of the front of their M16's? There is no bayonet-charge in the modern tactical manual). This quote topped out the Twitter traffic.

Having Obama lecture Romney on how we now have "Aircraft carriers" that "planes can land on" and "ships that go under the sea" (nuclear submarines, he says) was surreal. Can someone fact check that!? It sounds like science fiction!!

So what about it?

Well, apparently Romney has been going around making this statement for quite some time on the stump. If that's so, he's doing it because he (a) plans to improve military funding a great deal (2T if the numbers are to be believed) and (b) he wants to paint the military as "in decline." The first point, while of questionable value, is not insane: military commanders may not have "asked" Obama for more money--but surely they know that asking would not be looked upon fondly. I suspect their budget--apparently held flat--was 'what they could get away with.' 

But secondly, and this is the big deal, trying to paint our military as "in decline"--and using the number of ships--inspires a "what do you take me for?!?" reaction. I don't for a moment think Romney believes that the ship-count has anything to do with our ability to project force. I think he knows the difference between all those 1960's ships and our modern day best-of-breed blue-water navy. He may not be a strategist but he's no idiot. He just thinks his listeners are (or, well, that they'll eat it up--which they do--even if it's not accurate).

So I do score that one for Obama even if he was snarky in making the rebuttal.

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