Every pundit agrees that President Obama did badly in the first debate. But I can’t help wondering whether he (and VP Joe Biden) would have been able to come out swinging as freely as they have in the subsequent debates, if it were not for what happened in Denver. Obama must have been afraid of sounding unpresidential. But because his initial performance was so roundly criticized for passivity, he was licensed after that to argue aggressively: “What you are saying is not true, Governor Romney.” And it helps that he was right, each time. (My morning-after talking-head comments can be viewed: “Re-cap of 1st Presidential Debate,” Oct.4; and “Re-cap” of 2nd Presidential Debate, Oct.17.)read more
Senator Obama is on a vist to the Middle East and Europe. Senator McCain went to visit Colombia earlier in July. These trips suggest a seriousness of purpose that American presidential candidates often lack. They offer us hope that the candidates want to learn how to do the job well. Furthermore, they offer a hyper-attentive world grounds for hope that the next president will have a higher level of interest in other countries than did his predecessor.
So far as I know, it is unprecedented for the two party candidates to do foreign policy trips before the election. I can think of three reasons why we are seeing this now. First, because the primary elections started early this year, there is a hiatus between the end of the primaries and the party conventions. Thus the candidates can spare the time to go abroad. Second, foreign policy has risen much higher on the agenda of concerns of typical American voters, since September 11, 2001, and since the invasion of Iraq. (And of course Obama wants to put to rest McCain’s past jibes about not having visited Afghanistan and Iraq.) Third, Barack Obama and John McCain are not the usual inward-looking, domestically-oriented parochial governors that we all too often get as presidential candidates. Both are US Senators, and both in their youths had very formative adventures in foreign countries (both in Southeast Asia, as it happens). Thus both, if nothing else, have the cosmopolitan outlook that a world leader needs.read more