“Let me get back to foreign policy,” the moderator Bob Schieffer said, midway through a debate that was, after all, supposed to be devoted to that subject. He didn’t have much luck. President Barack Obama had just spoken at length about education here at home, and Mitt Romney felt a burning desire to defend the honor of fourth and eighth graders in Massachusetts, whose reading and math scores had, he said, been excellent during his tenure as governor. “And then you cut education spending when you came into office!” Obama said, interrupting. As they began arguing about the timing of a scholarship program—“That was actually mine, actually, Mr. President”—Schieffer tried to change the subject to military spending “because we have heard some of this in the other debates.”
The most remarkable thing about Monday’s foreign-policy debate in Boca Raton was how unremarkable Mitt Romney was. That’s a compliment. For an hour and a half, Romney played to the American middle, courted the mainstream. More or less agreeing with every substantive position of President Obama’s, Romney tried to find small differences that would make him appear more cool, more reasonable, and more Presidential than the President himself. Romney made no calls to invade this country or that one, no messianic invocations of America’s mission in the world. He came off as calm and pragmatic, even boring, and unbound by the straitjacket of any ideology.
No big deal, right? Not unless you place the foreign policy Romney outlined Monday night against the extreme vision he has put forth in his domestic agenda. At home, in the areas of tax policy and the role of government, Romney (and Paul Ryan) would take America to places it hasn’t been since early in the last century. Many of the assumptions that underpin Romney’s fiscal and economic policies, like the idea that tax cuts will spur economic growth, are unsupported by empirical evidence.
We live in a culture in which saying the wrong words in the wrong place—“binder,” “optimal,” “that”—seems to have become more important than doing the right thing at the right time. And so, as the Yankees shockingly went down swinging—well, not swinging, rather—pinstripe G.M. Brian Cashman said something that he will likely come to regret. “These guys are better than this. And you’ve seen it, and we’ve seen it,” Cashman said to the New York Post the other morning. “It is just a very poor short sample. We have a lot of guys that got cold at the wrong time, and it looks bad. But … this is not a reflection of who they are.”
In the field of media studies, scholars offer strategies and insights of varied quality about the profession and its ills. Alongside that work stands the practice of journalism—the bouncy flights, the lousy hotel rooms, the thrills and the humiliations of piecing together information and writing too fast, and occasionally, the loss of friends and colleagues in war zones. For a practitioner, listening to a media-studies scholar criticize work he or she has never done—even if the criticism may be justified—is a prescription for an aneurysm.
In foreign and national-security policy, there is a similar duality. There are the essay writers, the newspaper and online columnists, the scholarly Grand Strategists, and the members of Congress who travel abroad once or twice and anoint themselves experts. Then there is the actual practice of running diplomatic, intelligence, and military operations from the White House and other sections of the bureaucracy—making snap decisions with too little information, despite reading foot-wide briefing books day after day; chronic infighting among colleagues; the unrelenting tempo that leaves hardly a minute of the day for long-range thinking; the mendacity of foreign friends and enemies alike; and occasionally, the loss of friends and colleagues in war zones.
For Mitt Romney, in the second Presidential debate, women always seemed to be elsewhere. This was not the only reason that he lost the debate—and a chance to put the election away—but it was one of them. One of the stories that Romney’s campaign has told to humanize him is about how, at Bain Capital, he once shut down the office to lead a search for the daughter of a partner after she had gone missing in New York. When he talked, on Tuesday night, about how he had “the chance to pull together a cabinet” as the governor of Massachusetts and wanted to add women, the imagery was similar, and the targets also maddeningly elusive: “all the applicants seemed to be men,” he explained. It was as if the women were runaways, deliberately hiding themselves:
Last week’s Vice-Presidential debate injected women’s issues back into the campaign, and that’s a good thing. It’s good for the Democrats because it makes them scrappy. The day after the debate, Joe Biden was in La Crosse, Wisconsin, telling an audience that booed and cheered full-throatedly in all the right places, “If I leave you with no other message today, I want you to remember this one: Barack Obama and I are absolutely, positively, firmly committed to ensuring that our daughters and our granddaughters have the exact same rights and opportunities to control their lives as my sons and grandsons.” And it’s good for voters in general—including the mysterious Undecideds—because it underscores one of the starkest differences between the Obama and Romney tickets.
With any luck, this will be the last time I write about Lance Armstrong. But first, I want an apology. And I deserve one. Some readers will have followed my evolution from gullible fanboy to surprised reader to angry man.
Now I am simply amazed. If you believe the mountain of documents released on Wednesday by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (and I can find no reason not to) Armstrong didn’t just dope: he was the king—better at doping than he was at pretending to win bicycle races through grit and determination.
After the arguments in the Supreme Court yesterday, it’s unclear whether there is a legal problem with the affirmative-action admissions program at the University of Texas. Regardless of how the case turns out, though, it is clear that there is a political problem with contemporary affirmative action.
The flagship U.T. campus in Austin admits students in two ways. First, students at the top of their high-school class—usually the top ten per cent—are admitted automatically. Second, some students are admitted under a “holistic” analysis of all of their qualifications, including their race. Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was rejected for admission, sued, claiming that the consideration of the race of minority applicants amounted to discrimination against her.