Debate night was all right

Debate night was all right

Neither candidate won the final debate, but the debates themselves were absolute winners.

The presidential debates are over and the voting is on, at least in some states including Illinois, as the Nov. 6 election draws near.

President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney faced off for the third and final time Monday night at Lynn University in Florida. In our view, both men again made strong presentations that left neither with any particular advantage for their night's work.

This probably was the least followed of the three presidential debates for a couple of reasons. There was strong competition for TV viewers' attention provided by both the National Football League and Major League Baseball games. More important, however, is that the subject was foreign policy and, crucial as it may be, most people don't care nearly as much about that topic as they do domestic issues, particularly the economy.

So even though both candidates tried to score debating points in their efforts to impress the dwindling number of undecided voters, foreign policy just doesn't have the same impact as unemployment, economic growth, taxes and spending.

Nonetheless, the various topics sparked lively exchanges between Romney and Obama, with Obama being particularly aggressive as he tried to portray his opponent as reckless, feckless and inexperienced. In contrast to the aggressive persona he displayed in the first two debates, Romney was less combative, preferring to adopt the role of an elder statesman while telling Obama that "attacking me is not an agenda."

In contrast to their positions on domestic issues, Obama and Romney adopted similar positions on a number of foreign policy issues. There was quibbling around the edges, with Romney suggesting that Obama should have been more assertive on issues like the civil war in Syria and Obama claiming that Romney is less committed to leaving Afghanistan than he is.

But the debate showed how important continuity is in American foreign policy, even for incoming presidents who promise dramatic change before taking office. Probably much to his surprise, President Obama has found himself following very nearly the same path as his predecessor with respect to the nations of the Middle East.

This international hot spot is renowned for its instability, volatility and hostility to America's freedom agenda, a frustrating combination of qualities that poses serious problems in the formulation of foreign policy. The most serious threat America now faces is Iran's determination to acquire nuclear weapons, a status both Obama and Romney say cannot be allowed to happen.

Monday's debate, like the previous two, was a useful, frequently interesting exchange of views by two strong candidates competing in a close race for the White House. Indeed, this year's debates, which allowed for frequent direct exchanges between Obama and Romney, provided exactly the kind of contrast the voters should find useful in formulating their choice.

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