Is Sneering A Good Debate Strategy?

I was a bit disappointed with last night’s debate. I thought both candidates more or less articulated the same foreign policy, with subtle distinctions. I am not a fan of our current foreign policy approach, which I won’t go into here, so the lack of meaty discussion troubled me.

Obviously Obama didn’t accomplish what he needed to do — although it was interesting to watch him try to knock out Romney early. And obviously Romney passed the test of appearing at least as presidential as Obama.


  1. Mitch Noyes

    The jerk store must have been having a sale, because he was obviously loaded up on jerk.

  2. Alcina

    I thought it was exactly the sort of line that I would have thought was neat when I was 16 and doing high school debate. 

  3. Carol

    Sophomoric is too kind. I was wondering if this is a middle school election. It is revealing that the left apparently thought this was a great zinger. Maybe they don’t know aircraft carriers are ships, and subs are boats.

  4. Doug Lee

    Sophomoric is a good descriptor; glib, snarky and catty also come to mind.  Words that do not come to mind are “gravitas” or “Presidential.” 

    Romney’s goal was to be neutral on foreign policy (compared to Obama) and to tie in the economy.  I still say, as I did yesterday, that he would have done better to harp on Libya and energy policy, since there is a great tie-in between oil, foreign policy and the economy.

    Still, there was never any likelihood that the foreign policy debate could move the needle much in either direction.  Perhaps it was wise for Romney to lay low and try to come across as anything but a warmonger.  Guys dig foreign policy toughness, but it scares the crap out of chicks.  

    Romney’s been doing well with the chick vote, and did nothing to alienate them last night.  He managed to make points about the economy, where he clearly has a huge edge over Obama.  Seems like a win for Romney if you ask me.

  5. EJHill

    Ridicule plays an important role in society, but it needs to come from the right place. In a free society it can only flow from one direction – from the bottom up.

    The ability for the late night comedian, or for that matter, the average citizen to poke fun at the political leadership is essential in maintaining the republic.

    You can not have a president routinely mock and dismiss half the citizenry if he expects to lead the whole country.

  6. DrewInWisconsin

    That “We have these things called aircraft carriers . . . ” line really stood out, but I’m not sure it was rehearsed. Rather, it’s exactly the kind of sneering condescension that seems to naturally flow outta him.

    In terms of style, I think Romney struck exactly the right tone all the way through, which was to rise above the level of petty snark and points-scoring. (Though to be fair, Romney did take a couple swipes that caught me by surprise.) The president was in points-scoring mode all evening, and as a result, looked more like the challenger than the incumbent.

    As to the point about the size of the military, I have a hunch that most Americans, in the wake of yet another terrorist attack, aren’t worried that our military is too large.

  7. Goldgeller

    The post is good. I’m thinking about it. I’d imagine if you’re an Obama fan then it was a “smack down.” I think it was a bit condescending given that I’m a Romney fan, and I think Obama’s foreign policy has been confused and somewhat misguided (he didn’t seem to be in a position to be snark!). It’s a shame because Obama was actually making a good point. And I don’t think that Romney should’ve said he wouldn’t cut the military budget. It can be cut responsibly.  I can’t really say anything about “independents” though. 

  8. Mitch Noyes

    I liked Romney’s line about attacks on him not equalling a foreign policy agenda. I wish he’d deployed a similar line after the horses and bayonets line, something like, “Mr. President, you can use condescension and snide remarks all you like. But the American people know that you’re simply trying to deflect attention away from the ineffectiveness of your passive, reactionary, and dangerous policy of ‘leading from behind.’ It’s telling that your sharpest barbs are so often deployed on your political opponents and our allies, even while you bow and apologize to those who mean us harm. ”

  9. Stan Hjerleid

    Being ex-Navy, ships don’t go underwater unless they are sunk.  Submarines go underwater.  But then what do you expect from someone that talks about “corpsemen”.

  10. Mel Foil

    The format was so inadequate for fleshing out the differences. They ended up sounding very similar. But, that’s only on the surface. I blame the debate format. What can you really explain in two minutes? Keeping all options on the table is a subtle strategy, but a good one. It works when enemies know that you’re serious.

  11. Eeyore

    Teh Funny is that the marines still have bayonets and we are using horses and other equi in Afghanistan.

    The line did peg as the highest point on the Luntz-o-meter, h’ver.

    [Eeyore comments before paging down]

  12. The Mugwump

    Condescension and sarcasm can be devastating when used against an inferior opponent, but Obama came off like a punk disrespecting an adult.  True colors revealed.  Another manifestation of his pathological personality.  

  13. Johnny Dubya
    Carol: Sophomoric is too kind. I was wondering if this is a middle school election. It is revealing that the left apparently thought this was a great zinger. Maybe they don’t know aircraft carriers are ships, and subs are boats. · 14 minutes ago

    Indeed, although to be accurate, Obama called aircraft carriers “things”.

    My vacation home in Connecticut is on the Thames, a few hundred yards downriver from one of the shipyards that builds our submarines.  My father-in-law worked there, my wife worked there, and my brother-in-law still works there.  I have never heard them refer to a sub as a “ship”.  And the name of the company?  Electric Boat.

    The president did have this opportunity to talk about efficiency and modernization, to attack Romney from a somewhat conservative angle, and to appear more knowledgeable about the military.  Instead, he came off like a community organizer/college lecturer trying to sound knowledgeable but instead coming off as snarky and clueless.

  14. No Caesar

    Obama is a moron if the bayonets, horses, and aircraft carriers line was rehearsed.  It was so patently, stupid that only a young, clever-clever Democrat operative drowning in the Obubble could think it would be helpful.  Never mind that bayonets are still used.  Never mind that horses are still used (most recently in Obama’s “Good War” of Afghanistan).  Never mind that carrier groups require more ships than battleship groups.  Never mind that submarines are called boats, not ships.  Never mind all that, it doesn’t change the fact that the Navy says we are way too short on ships and heading shorter, and that’s happening under Obama’s watch.  I guess Obama’s answer to everything is flying magical unicorns. 

  15. Shane McGuire

    The Seinfeld paraphrase about the ’80s was terrible. The aircraft carrier condescension was worse. Sounds like the Daily Show, not a presidential debate.

  16. Astonishing

    Perhaps we shouldn’t have foreign policy debates. Saying the most “electable” thing can be deadly dangerous.

    Mullahs don’t usually dance, but they must have been dancing last night when Romney said:

    Our diplomatic isolation needs to be tougher.  . . . We need to put the pressure on them as hard as we possibly can, because if we do that, we won’t have to take the military action. (emphasis added)

    The upshot of this formulation is that Romney told the mullahs he won’t take military action against them because he believes his version of diplomacy and sanctions alone will be sufficient.

    Unfortunately, nothing indicates that diplomacy and sanctions have materially slowed Iran’s nuclear program, and especially at this late hour we have no confident basis for asserting, as Romney did, that some more rigorous version will ever be sufficient to dispense with the need for military action.

    To avoid offending certain voters he perceives as timid (women?), Romney projected weakness. Yes, Romney might actually believe and intend something different, but his claim that a re-tweaked upgrade of InternationalDiplomacyPlusSanctions 12.6 will make military action unnecessary actually made it more likely.

    (Needless to say, Obama was even worse.)

  17. Vance Richards

    His personality is even worse than his politics.

  18. Valiuth

    All I saw was a clip of the line and I thought Obama had a very good point. It isn’t really important that we have X number of ships so much that we can do what we want to do and need to do with the ships we have. I did however think the O’s rather good point was undermined by the way he chose to deliver it. Especially the condescending explanation of what air craft carriers are. I guess liberals will eat that up, but I’m not sure it will help.

    My liberal friends last night where all rather dower about the prospects of this election. They probably need a bit of cheering up, because their world is crumbling around them.  

  19. Jim Chase

    Snark has become a standard dialect in its own right, and sadly the only one some seem to understand and speak.

    What astonishes me, as the debates progressed, is that the president’s handlers never caught on as to how the sneers, laughs and snark played out in terms of optics.  For a president who made such a successful use of optics during his first campaign, the lack of discipline in maintaining the “image” of a presidential stage presence and demeanor is astounding.

  20. Shane McGuire

    Did you see Sununu last night on Fox after the debate?

    “The president’s suggestion that Governor Romney doesn’t know what an aircraft carrier is stunned me. This is a man who owns three yachts, all of which have landing strips and pads for his planes and helicopters.”

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