Don't diss defense workers

Reuters

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama speak at the same time as moderator Bob Schieffer (C) listens during the final U.S. presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida, October 22, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • If you care about foreign policy, you may have been disappointed by the focus on car tires & teachers. #lynndebate

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  • “If your aim is to win in Virginia, it is probably better not to make fun of the naval fleet.” @DPletka

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  • Fundamentally, the question is less about the score that Twitter and spinners give to their favored obsession.

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If what you care about is foreign policy and you tuned in tonight, you may have been a tad disappointed by the focus on car tires and teachers and by Barack Obama’s rather robotic insistence on “nation building here at home.” If you care about national defense and are particularly worried about sequestration (the plan that would likely cut $500 billion from the defense budget in January 2013), the President’s blithe assertion that it won’t happen – no proof, no policy, just “I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message” – may not have convinced you.

On the other hand, Mitt Romney did little more to convey the security costs of a rollback in defense that could mean that, by the end of this decade, Americans will be spending more annually to service their national debt that they will on national security.

Mr. Romney recycled the oft-used sentiment that the President’s request for naval ships will be the smallest since 1917. Mr. Obama quoted Mr. Romney’s talking points back to him, citing the actual year — 1916 – and ridiculed Romney’s failure to understand that the military doesn’t fight with bayonets and horses anymore. But the reality is that Mr. Obama’s request is for a Navy unseen since 1916. And for an Air Force little improved from the one our fathers knew. And for a tanker fleet so ancient, all operations are analog. And for a bomber fleet conceived during the Carter years. In that context, cute horse comments are a lame comeback.

If your aim is to win in Virginia, it is probably better not to make fun of the naval fleet (note to the Obama team). Defense workers in Ohio and Virginia are game for more investment. If you want to score points on national defense, it’s probably best not to be snide (though hipsters love it). Truth be told, many who believe in America’s national mission are comfortable with the “peace through strength” message Mr. Romney sought to convey.

Fundamentally, the question is less about the score that Twitter and the spinners give to their favored obsession. Rather, it’s about who sends a message of American resolve, belief in American power, and commitment to American investment in defense. If that’s what matters to you — be you American voter, adversary, or terrorist — then it’s likely that Mr. Romney’s message, on principle and politics, hit home a little harder than Mr. Obama’s. And that, folks, is what the debates are all about.

Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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