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The Obama-Romney final debate: And the winner is...

October 23, 2012 11:37 IST

The consensus put Barack Obama ahead again in this final debate, not by much, but sufficiently to make it possible that he was the net leader of the three debates, writes Shreekant Sambrani

They're off! Welcome to the home stretch of America's two-horse Grand National Electoral Chase. 

The handsome champion black stallion Obama is in the inside track, just barely, while the equally handsome white challenger Romney has the outside track, just barely. 

They have come close to swapping leads -- Obama being ahead by a neck, some say a nose, for most of the length, until the second last bend, when a steady Romney unexpectedly put a burst of speed and pulled level with an equally unexpected slowing Obama and nearly pulled level. 

It has been that way since, with almost a dead heat as they enter the straight. This track still accepts bets, with even money on either horse.

No matter how liberal and free of identity politics we claim to be, there is no running away from the fact that both race and gender will play a role in this election, perhaps a decisive one. 

The reference to the colour of the two horses above is not judgmental, but factual. No poll is needed to tell us that Obama will be an overwhelming favourite of the black vote, perhaps all of the non-white voters. And he has a strong edge among women. 

Nate Silver of Five-Thirty-Eight reports that the gender gap in this election may be among the highest. An all-woman electorate would give Obama a landslide, while an all-male electorate would make his performance comparable to that of Carter against Reagan in 1980.

The home stretch was the final debate between the two contenders on Tuesday morning (India time) in Boca Raton, FL. Among other things, Boca is known for its many splenderous gated enclaves with elaborate security arrangements. 

The folks who live there are worried constantly about the threat armed gangsters and sly fraudsters pose to their riches. The fact that there are a great many more gentle well-meaning people outside the gates who could stand united with them in combating any real threat is of little merit to them. This trait of the choice of venue of the debate was uncannily reflected in the debate itself.

The two contestants spent more than 30 minutes each, about three-fourths of the total time, debating the hot spots of West Asia/North Africa and the threat the unsettled conditions there and various jihadists or wannabe-nuclear warriors posed to the world (read the United States). 

They spent the next six minutes or so each on China and the economic challenge it represented for the US.  Which large aspirational country did not rate even a single mention? You guessed it right, India! For the record, neither did Japan, or the deeply distressed Western Europe. 

It was as if the 4.5 billion people, or two-thirds of the world, outside the Middle East, Af-Pak, China, and the US, mattered only as a foot-note to this debate ostensibly on foreign policy.

But even here, it was the economy, stupid! 

A woman in the CNN focus group said as much: foreign policy mattered only insofar as it impacted on jobs at home. The candidates lost no time in sneaking in domestic issues early in the debate and kept reverting to them all the time. 

Romney made the by-now ritualistic incantation of his five-point plan and Obama equally ritualistically patted himself on the back for single-handedly saving Detroit (all you Tiger fans out there, please note -- he might even win the World Series for you!) 

Who is tougher on China was a question not so much of geo-political superiority as it was of America's shaky position in the global economy. Romney began by saying that China had economic interests similar to those of the US and he wanted to engage the Chinese in a common pursuit, but within the next minute reversed himself by lambasting the Chinese about their manifold economic sins which threaten America. 

Oddly, an otherwise combative Obama did not seize upon this contradiction.

Both Libya and Iran came in for some chest-thumping, even though the Middle East situation cannot be considered in isolation of the oil scenario. Obama was undisputedly the commander-in-chief and Romney his ever so loyal opposition. 

Some commentators said that this showed Romney in a positive light, in a presidential mould, and what have you, but it was Obama all the way as far as I could gauge. I thought the president scored a slam-dunk when he rebutted Romney's contention that the US now had fewer warships ever by saying that so did it have fewer horses and bayonets! 

This may not go down well in Norfolk or Newport News, VA, but it was a real clincher on defence-preparedness. 

Romney's high point was 'We can't kill our way through'. One hopes that what appeared to be a change of heart was indeed so.

The consensus put Obama ahead again in this final debate, not by much, but sufficiently to make it possible that he was the net leader of the three debates. His likability may have been dented a bit and Romney's image may have burnished a bit, but I believe that the Champion Stallion is ahead by a nose.

At worst there could be a photo-finish. But as they say, one week is a long time in politics and November 6 is still two weeks away!

And finally, this post-script: I learnt, courtesy CNN, that win or lose, Obama will set some record. If he wins, this would be only the second time three presidents in a row (Clinton, George W Bush, Obama) would have served two consecutive terms between 1992 and 2016, the previous such instance being that of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe between 1801 and 1825. 
If Obama loses, at 51 he would be the second youngest ex-president, the youngest being Theodore Roosevelt who left the presidency in 1909 at the age of 50. 

Of such monumental significance is this electoral battle being fought in a world coming apart at the seams!


Shreekant Sambrani