In comparison to the previous debate, President Obama gets points – mostly for showing up. Nevertheless, even the first polls show that he didn’t manage to knock out Mitt Romney – despite all the advantages of scripted questions, a friendly audience and, of course, the moderator. Oh, the moderator.
Candy Crowley’s crass intervention into the debate on Obama’s side broke Romney’s momentum and set an audience against him, since she practically accused him of lying. To recap: Obama claimed that, from the first moment, he recognized the murder of American diplomats in Benghazi as a terrorist attack and called it as such. Romney accused the President of stalling for several days before admitting that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the infamous video about Muhammad, and that he didn’t refer to the murders as an act of terror.
This brought Crowley to intervene. “In fact”, – she intoned, channeling an enraged schoolmarm, – “he [Obama] did call it [the Benghazi attack] an act of terror”. Applause.
Why was Crowley so sure? Because, you see, that’s what Obama campaign staffer David Axelrod told her on her show on September 30th. As Commentary’s Alana Goodman writes on Sept 30th:
“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.
In the actual speech at the Rose Garden, Obama didn’t use the word “terror” until close to the end, when he mentioned the 9/11 attacks. If the President believed that America was again a victim of terrorism – he would have mentioned this in a first sentence of his address.
But the plain admission of this fact – that American diplomats were murdered by Islamist terrorists – disturbed the narrative the Obama administration was pushing up to this point. “We left Iraq, we got bin Laden, the Middle East is democratizing itself, and Al Qaeda is defeated” – this was the party line before the newly-liberated Arab masses went on an anti-American rampage. To admit that the “new Libya” became a terrorist haven was just too much.
And so, before and after Obama’s address, the administration refused to call the slaughter in Benghazi an act of terror. Faced with outrage after the end of the debate, Crowley herself admitted that Romney was correct “on substance”, unwittingly underscoring her mistake. Even if she was truly certain that Romney got this semantic detail wrong, she should have let Obama object (which he did) and restrain herself from disturbing the flow of the debate and guiding the audience.
Despite all expectations and the significantly Jewish makeup of the audience, Israel or Iran did not come up in the debate questions. This leaves Governor Romney with a clear mission for the last debate – he must expose Obama’s handling of world affairs for what it is. Going beyond presidential misstatements, he must confront the viewers with the alarming reality of American appeasement of Russia in Europe and radical Islamists in the Middle East, the inadequacy of sanctions against Iran and the breakdown of trust with Israel. Pundit wisdom notwithstanding, polls show that Americans want to hear about foreign policy, even if the bunch of hand-picked Long Islanders didn’t. Romney must not disappoint them.