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Final Debate Offers Last Licks for Romney, Obama

In the last debate before the Nov. 6 election, candidates Romney and Obama argued the 900-pound gorilla of the election, foreign policy. Will the winner carry his momentum to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

They both know what they are talking about, don't they? 

President Obama killed it when speaking about Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. Governor Romney mastered China and the economy. Astonishingly, very little was said about the recent Libyan disaster and the sad, dangerous situation in Syria. Yet perhaps even more astonishingly, there were several times when Romney and Obama appeared to —gasp! — agree. 

Nevertheless, there were two sharp areas of contrast. The first? The economy, which both candidates continued to debate vigorously even though the evening's topic was officially foreign policy. 

The second? The appearance of presidentiality. 

As an observer, I found it very curious that Romney did not hammer home the popular conservative talking points of the Libyan and Syrian disasters, both huge weaknesses for the current administration. Instead, in a thought-provoking twist, Romney chose to agree with Obama's strategies, again and again.

Even more interesting was the Romney strategy of not just embracing, but actively promoting, world peace. In this way, Romney effectively defused Obama's central effort to paint Romney as a reckless and dangerous warmongering flip-flopper who is unfit to lead the nation.

Like the last debate, Obama was well spoken and argued his points effectively. But instead of defining a clear plan for the future of the nation, he instead chose to go on the attack, defaulting to petty, condescending remarks ("We have these things called aircraft carriers!") and, as in the first debate, appeared nearly angry.

And, by the way, the military does still use bayonets. Sorry, Mr. President.

Clearly, President Obama was well prepared to answer each of moderator's Bob Schieffer's questions; he was smooth and knowledgeable. But as I watched Governor Romney take the broad view, I observed President Obama delving deeply into little-known details, apparently to demonstrate his foreign policy prowess.

But the result was that Obama appeared more like a mid-level policy wonk than a top level world leader. Obama's decision to use his time to attack Romney's positions instead of define his own policy for the next four years will hurt him; how many times do we need to hear Obama accuse Romney of wanting to cut taxes for wealthy "folks", even though Romney has denied it, convincingly, countless times?

Obama spoke and acted more like a desperate challenger —I attempted to measure the number of interruptions, but lost count after the first segment— rather than the man who has led the greatest nation in the world for the past nearly-four years. So while he may have earned audience giggles for some well-timed comments, in the end, I don't believe he added anything new to the national conversation.

For a victory, all Romney had to do was demonstrate knowledge of the most salient foreign policy topics of the day and appear presidential. He didn't have to trounce Obama like he did in the first debate; he only had to perform well enough to assure the American people that he is qualified to be the nation's top diplomat.

In this respect, Romney is the clear winner. He was by far more presidential. He clearly demonstrated his preference for staying above the muck of nasty allegations, as all presidents should. That's because he is a big picture thinker, as all leaders are. Best of all, he rejected the stereotypical warmonger's posture by promoting peace and prosperity for all, and with it the halfhearted attempt by Obama to paint him as George W. Bush redux.

But my favorite part was the final statement, when Romney stated his ability to reach across the aisle to work with "good Democrats and good Republicans" to craft policy initiatives that will move 100 percent of the world toward peace and prosperity.

And that's the kind of hope and change this voter believes in.

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