A few desultory thoughts about the third Presidential debate, 2012

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The ScatterKat and I voted Saturday.  Early voting.  So it isn't like listening to the debate on NPR was going to make a huge difference for us.  Not unless we built a time machine between now and Election Day, or fell in a wormhole or something.  But it's an easy post.

So the President did alright for himself, which was to be expected.  Look, the truth is that even if you set aside the conventional wisdom that foreign policy is an incumbent President's strong suit during a campaign--which I'm not sure is always true, it's just one of the things pundits say while bloviating--I think it's hard for the Republicans to get around the fact that the Administration's foreign policy has mostly been competent, if not well-conducted.  There's the faux-scandal of the Benghazi attack, but not all the facts are in and Romney ended up having that blade turn in in his hand and cut him at the last debate because he didn't know how to wield it.  You can attack the Administration for the use of drones in "targeted" killings from the bleeding-heart left or the isolationist right, but Romney and the Bush neocons he's surrounded himself with for foreign policy advice are hardly in a position to do either.

Which left Romney in the awkward position of spending much of last night's debate saying he'd do exactly what the current Administration is doing, only he'd do it better or Romney-er or something.  It made the whole thing a little awkward and weird.

No doubt, that's why they kept pivoting to the economy.  Well; I get why Romney wanted to do that, I'm not entirely sure why Obama kept going there, too.  Maybe he figured he was owning Romney on foreign policy issues, he might as well work in a pander to teachers just like Romney figured while he was getting owned on foreign policy, he might as well pander to the Latino vote.  I dunno if that actually worked for either of them, but someone could've gotten whiplash if they tried following the changing of the subject too closely.


Confession: I didn't really think Romney had made any really notable gaffes, but that's because I forgot where Syria was.  Honestly, I ought to know better.  In my defense, I was playing a videogame while we were listening to it, and I was probably more concerned, as far as spatial relations are concerned, with where the Borg sphere I was targeting was in relation to my shields than I was with the fact Syria is on the Mediterranean while Iran's route to the sea would be via the Gulf named after it.  Let me add that my teammates and I thoroughly decimated the Borg incursion and those damn cybernetic-infecting-hive-mind-cockroaches won't be bothering the Regulus Sector Block of the Alpha Quadrant ever again until the next time they respawn for their daily event.

(I would like to hear more about how Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama would deal with these regular incursions of the Borg menace into Federation space and would they be willing to hold a cease-fire with the Klingon Empire to discuss presenting a united Federation-Klingon-Romulan front to this common menace to the Alpha Quadrant.  Also, what steps would either gentleman take, if elected or re-elected, to reduce our dependence on foreign dilithium while bringing matter-antimatter containment field prices down.  Thank you.)

So that was pretty fucking stupid on my part not to catch it last night.  But at least I wasn't stupid enough to say something like that to the entire American people.  I don't know that it'll make a difference, though: I keep hearing that Americans are too dumb to find their own home state on a map of South America (hint: that's a trick question), much less figure out that the Romney campaign is too dumb to Google the Middle East, and this after more than two-thirds of his foreign-policy team got George W. Bush into what often gets labeled the "Second Gulf War", as in Persian Gulf, as in Persia is what they called Iran in that old Apple II game where I used to always fall into pits and get impaled on spikes (which seems redundant, since there was no way for me to get out of the pit, but I guess that was better than waiting for your man to die of starvation, which probably would have been really boring after about fifteen minutes).


Even missing the "Route To The Sea" gaffe, Romney's foreign policy prescriptions frequently veered on the incoherent.  My favorite was the bit about providing Syrian rebels with weapons that magically can't be used against Americans.  Now those are what I call smart weapons (rimshot).  I guess this is how Romney plans on creating jobs: we'll get the American public employed making guns that have an expiration date or some kind of monthly subscription fee.


In a similar vein, there was Romney's line, "You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators," which was kind of funny because, like Romney last night, the ScatterKat and I were talking about Iran this past weekend.  Only, y'know, what we were talking about was the Iranian Revolution and how it was a result of the CIA deposing Iran's democratically-elected government and reinstalling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Reza_Pahlavi>
the Shah of Iran in 1953 (we were talking about seeing Argo, Ben Affleck's movie about the real-life rescue of a half-dozen American diplomats from Iran during the '79 hostage crisis by CIA operatives posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Roger Zelazny movie).

Yeah, I mean, not to rationalize or justify Iran's political and theocratic leadership being bugfuck crazy, genocidal, homicidal, etc., but it probably does behoove us to remember that if the Iranians think we're out to get them, it might have something to do with, you know, the way we've been out to get them.  And that if they're a problem state, it might have something to do with the fact we destroyed their democracy and then spent a quarter-century propping up the dictator we installed because they were going to nationalize British oil interests and the Cold War and stuff, and then when they were sick of it and overthrew said dictator, we yoiked him away from their justice or retribution or whatever they were going to do for him (though, to be fair, he did need medical treatment and he did spend his whole stay in the United States stuck in a hospital under a fake name).  Which, again, isn't to say we owe them an apology (though... maybe), much less that we should put up with any bullshit from them; it is to say maybe we shouldn't be so sanguine about all this "We have freed other nations from dictators" schtick.


I also don't get Romney's current China positions.  We'll work with them by, on Romney's first day in office, declaring them a currency manipulator and imposing tariffs.  Also, they won't like or respect us as trade partners if we reduce the size of our military, because... well, I didn't understand that part, either.  Actually, I think Romney's China policy may have been created by Henry Mudd, which means it will only work if China is a hive-mind of logic-obsessed robots who can be overloaded by a sequence of surrealist and absurdist pantomimes culminating in presenting the Chinese Premier with the liar paradox and hoping he hasn't been outfitted with paradox-absorbing crumple zones.

Okay, I've been playing way too much Star Trek Online.


I think one reason I thought Romney's performance rose to adequacy, or maybe the reason, was that he didn't bite on any of Bob Schieffer's gotcha questions on Israel.  Neither candidate did.  Schieffer kept asking them if they'd go to war for Israel, or what if Iran did this to Israel, or would we make a commitment to defend Israel like it was American soil, and Romney even pretty much called Schieffer on his bullshit with, "Bob, let's not go into hypotheticals of that nature," and pointing out in a mostly-tactful way that the question Schieffer had just asked was pretty fucking stupid.

I just want to give credit where it's due, y'know?


Speaking of calling people on their bullshit, I'm glad the President finally jumped on that stupid meme Romney and Ryan have been pushing about reducing the United States Navy to pre-World War I numbers.  I'm not even sure how that one has gotten any traction at all, unless people really are so stupid they don't realize the U.S.S. Enterprise (no, not that one, this one) could pretty much take on the entire WWI United States Navy without the WWI fleet ever seeing her or even knowing exactly where she was.  I'd go as far as saying the Enterprise could sink the whole WWI-era fleet, only I don't know if she'd run out of ammunition before sinking 774 boats.

But Romney and Ryan keep comparing the proposed force levels to a military that didn't have radar, long-range aircraft, guided missiles, or the ability to operate long periods at sea without routinely returning to port to re-coal.  Much less possess submarines each capable of being armed with more than 130 megatons of destructive capacity that can be directed at hundreds of targets within a 7,500 mile range.

And who are we going to be fighting, that we need to destroy the world a dozen times over, anyway?


I thought I was about finished, but then I remembered that Romney attacked Tesla Motors again.  And I still don't get it.  Tesla is paying back their Federal loan and is wholly on schedule and the company is predicting positive cash flow by the end of next month.  They've had some problems delivering their new sedan model on schedule, but there's nothing wholly unexpected about that with such an innovative company.  The Wall Street Journal calls Tesla a wait-and-see investment, based in large part on the company's debt-to-cash ratio, but the Journal also points out that the debt-to-cash issue is part and parcel of being a cutting-edge company.  I.e. Tesla may be a risky investment, but that doesn't make it a bad investment.

And that's for the individual investor.  It isn't necessarily a bad investment for the government even if the government loses money (which seems unlikely: it looks like the public will at least break even on the loan we made); after all, there's a good case to be made that the American people have an interest in new technologies and innovations built upon existing techs that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and all the political, economic and environmental problems they create.

Honestly, if I hadn't voted already, Romney picking on Tesla would be yet another reason to vote against him.


So it's about two more weeks of this, and then....

Well, then it's not really over, because I guess if the President gets reelected, the GOP is going to return to the same shenanigans they've been at the past four years, and if Romney somehow pulls it out, we get to deal with whatever mess he ends up making of things.  I don't know how much heart I'll have to write about politics in that scenario, because I imagine I'm only capable of saying, "I coulda told you that would happen" oh-so-many-times, plus I'm a light touch and, really, if we end up with the economy even further in the crapper or in a trade war with China, I probably will feel sorry for the victims even if they voted for the wrong guy.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and the system will be more robust than I give it credit for.  All of Romney's "On my first day as President" statements are a bit silly and hyperbolic, just because a lot of them are going to be things that get blocked in the Senate (by filibuster if the Republicans hold it, by majority if they don't).  On an unfortunately similar note, a lot of the worst things we could expect from a Romney administration are already seeping into effect via House budget actions or state legislative actions (e.g. at some point it isn't going to get any harder for a woman to get an abortion, because it can't get any harder than impossible even if abortion is legal but there just aren't any clinics willing or able within a few hundred miles).

Which isn't to say the guy would be harmless.  He wouldn't.  He wants to return us to 19th Century regulatory policies, which is the kind of thing that led to the housing bubble and credit collapse, and he's surrounding himself with the same gang of idiots who got us into Iraq (and who screwed up Afghanistan in the process).  He'll have a hard time destroying Obamacare outright, but he can certainly erode it into meaningless while screwing up the nation's financials.  And speaking of that: Clinton and Obama are right, the Romney tax plan doesn't add up; now, I'm one of those people who thinks deficit concerns are overblown--I think the crucial issue isn't whether there's a deficit, but how well the deficit is being managed (basically, where are we with the interest payments is an oversimplified "what-the-problem-boils-down-to")--but Romney's plan doesn't even do that; and, I should add, deficits are a problem if you're not getting any benefit from your expenditures, and I don't see Romney's deficit-running as being socially or economically constructive in any way (rich people are as likely--or more--to sequester their money or gamble with it as they are to quote-unquote "create jobs").

But this is where we're at.  I've cast my vote, done my bit.  We'll see if it means anything.  Or we'll at least have to wait and see who the Electoral College puts in office.


TimBo Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 1:35:00 PM EDT  

"I had a seven point buck in my sights but I couldn't get the shot away. The DRM on my rifle locked the trigger because it couldn't connect to the DOD servers." If DRM works for online games why not assault rifles? ;-)

I wasn't even aware the third debate was last night. I don't think anybody cares any more. I'm glad I didn't know about it so I didn't have to make any effort to block it out.

Eric Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 2:05:00 PM EDT  

I love the idea of a DRMed rifle. Maybe we can send the Syrian rebels shareware versions of assault weapons--"If you want to continue using this rocket launcher REGISTER NOW."

Anonymous,  Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 5:13:00 PM EDT  

Great post. Loved the Star Trek scenarios; they would make the debates so much more fun. (Harcourt Fenton Mudd was a memorable character, and I can't believe how much better I feel about Romney blathering on about a topic he was unfamiliar with, like foreign affairs, when you insert a couple of Star Trek sketches...they don't even have to *be* on point to make it better, although they were :))


Warner Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 8:54:00 AM EDT  

I had to check a map to see if Iran and Syria had a common border.

I wasn't playing a game, I was re-reading The Great Bridge.

Eric Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 9:46:00 AM EDT  

A great bridge--over Iraq--being exactly what Iran would need to get a road to the (Mediterranean) sea via Syria.

It could happen?

Leanright,  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 2:06:00 PM EDT  

I absolutely love comments about Obama having more foreign affairs experience.

No shit. He's been the goddam president for 4 years. I HOPE he has more experience! Whomever "Anonymous" is, you DO understand that, don't you? How much did Obama have when he took office? How much did Clinton have? Most of the diplomatic part of foreign affairs is on the job training. Presidents have significantly more access to intelligence, etc.

So, to criticize Romney for a lack of that experience is a dumb argument.

Eric Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 2:59:00 PM EDT  

1) Dave, you could have made that point without being a dick. You want to be a shit to me, go ahead, but how about avoiding the preemptive assholery from here on out.

2) It was a lousy point. People criticized Obama for a lack of foreign policy experience before he took office. People criticized G.W. Bush for it. And Clinton, if I recall correctly. Some Presidents--G.H.W. Bush comes to mind as the most recent one--actually do come to the Presidency with some foreign policy experience (G.H.W. Bush entered the Presidency not just with the Vice-Presidency on his resume, but also with experience as a former Director of the CIA, former envoy to China, and former Ambassador to the UN--whatever else anyone wanted to say about the man, he had foreign policy cornered).

It is a perfectly fair argument that Obama deserves re-election primarily because he has Presidential experience now, including foreign policy experience. "Fair" does not mean "convincing": you can disagree and hold that his experience is less valuable than having a new perspective would be, or that his rival's experience is more valuable in the current situation, or make some other argument that takes the inarguable point of the President's experience and minimizes its priority. And you can make the converse argument that while Mitt Romney's lack of experience is a liability, the liability is outweighed by net positives you can name. But the idea that it should just be ignored and that lack of experience isn't a liability for Romney is laughable on its face.

3) In short, Dave, you were a dick and you didn't even have a good point to make while you were being a dick. Being a dick might be forgivable if you had a really good point (well, no, not really, actually). And you could have made the same lousy argument without the dickishness. But combining them? I mean, for fuck's sake, this is why people jump all over your ass all the time in comment threads. It isn't because you're a conservative, it isn't because there's a chorus of bleeding hearts who like to echo each other all the time and listen to themselves croon all over each other, it's because you're pretty regularly an asshole. And I'm getting tired of being nice and permissive about it.

At some point, you may have the singular dubious dishonor of being the first guy to get banned from this place. I'd really rather not do that, on the off chance you might learn how to contribute something. At the very least, how to contribute a lousy comment without being dickish to someone who didn't say anything to you or about you, and made a kind of general comment that you happen to disagree with.

And she signed her name, by the way. Try reading a whole fucking comment sometime before you go off all half-cocked and shooting wildly. It's Lorraine, if you have the iota of decency it would take to apologize for being a punk.

I have to note: years ago, when you first came round, I answered your very first comment with a lot more respect than you've typically bothered to show anyone else around here. I had the crazy idea that would be a kind of positive object-lesson, taking you more seriously than your comment deserved and trying to answer in a civil, reach-across-the-aisle manner. Since then, my patience has withered. I'm tired, Dave. Just stop. You want to comment, read your own goddamn words before you post and ask yourself if you sound like a two-cent shithead. Even if someone was a shit to you, first, ask yourself if that's how you want to be.

Nick from the O.C.,  Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 4:33:00 PM EDT  

Re: Your Section VII - Romney's China policy.

Yes, that effin blew my mind. If I had ever any thought of voting for him (which was a tiny yet nonzero probability), that comment ended it.

It was incoherent, it was internally contradictory, it was illogical. Yet I don't think it's getting much traction in wonk-land.

Anyway, I'm glad you wrote that because now I don't feel all alone in my WTFery.

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