Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
President Obama tore Mitt Romney apart in the debate in Boca Raton. He repeatedly attacked his Republican opponent for being “all over the map” on one issue after another, underlining the point that Romney would not send a consistent signal to allies and foes alike.
Romney had no answer to that charge.
Obama also got off the best lines of the night.
"Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy you seem to want the policies of the 1980s, just like you want to import the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies in the 1920s," Obama said.
When Romney criticized Obama for presiding over a Navy with fewer ships than in 1916, Obama struck back:
“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because of the nature of our military spending. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. Ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. The question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships.”
And on China, Obama slammed Romney twice, first accusing him of doing business with a Chinese company that had ties with the Iranians, and then accusing him of investing “in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.”
For his part, Romney was content to try to take foreign affairs off the table by agreeing with the Obama Administration on policy after policy and differing with him only on rhetoric. “I agree with the President” was Romney’s coda. He agreed with Obama on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on Libya, on Syria, on China, on Iran, on drones. In fact, there was not much daylight between the two on any foreign policy substance.
On Iran, for instance, the belligerence was high on both sides, with Obama threatening war in a “mature” way, after getting allies on board because “the clock is ticking.” He was implying that Romney would attack Iran prematurely, but either way, it looks bad for Iranian civilians.
As Jeremy Scahill tweeted, it was a boring debate because we have a Democratic President with a Republican foreign policy. Actually, a bipartisan imperial foreign policy, as when Obama said America is still the “indispensable nation”—repeating a horrid quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
And Obama also used the awful George W. Bush rhetoric about “bringing to justice” those who attacked us, and by that, they both meant rubbing people out.
The strategy of the Romney camp seemed to be to encourage voters to make their decision solely on the economy.
Twice Romney mentioned food stamps in the foreign policy debate! (Calling all racists.)
But he offered no different perspectives and no alternative agendas than the ones President Obama has been pursuing.
“Me, too” made for a dull debate, and a blunder on Romney’s part that he may later regret.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Romney in Denial about Lethal Lack of Health Insurance."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter