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Clarence Page / Politics

Moderate Mitt Debates Himself

Obama's final debate with Mitt Romney wasn't nearly as fascinating as the debate that Romney appeared to be having with himself.

With a smiling smoothness that even would amaze Zelig, the hero of Woody Allen's movie about a human chameleon, Obama's Republican challenger transformed in their final presidential debate into an even kindlier, gentler version of the Moderate Mitt he presented in the first two.

With foreign policy as the topic, Romney slid even farther away in this debate from the self-described "severely conservative" posture he eagerly embraced during his party's primaries. This time he cozied up so ideologically close to Obama that you could hardly slide a paper ballot in between them.

He ballyhooed the need to arm the Syrian resistance fighters, for example, but ultimately agreed with the president that we shouldn't arm them until we know just who it is that we are arming.

He emphasized the need to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon but nevertheless called for "peaceful and diplomatic means," as Obama has, and praised Obama's "crippling sanctions" as "absolutely the right thing to do."

He openly congratulated the president on taking out Osama bin Laden but called for "a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the Islamic world and others" to reject radical extremism. Sounds a lot like Obama again.

And Libya? What happened to the boiling issue that Romney raised on the very night of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi that killed an ambassador and three other Americans? Romney didn't even seem to want to go there.

Asked directly about Libya, Romney proceeded to ramble on about Arab Spring, Syria, Mali, Egypt, Iran and, in passing, Libya. But his remedies sounded about as nonspecific as his secret, so far, list of loopholes and deductions he would cut to enact his tax reform plan.

Obama criticized Romney's lack of foreign policy experience and flip-flops in strategy that have been "all over the map."

Yet Romney, who many observers thought came off as too aggressive and even disrespectful during the previous week's debates, responded only with a gentle-but-firm, "Attacking me is not an agenda." That was a pretty good zinger in itself, since Obama's campaign has focused in these final weeks less on building up his second-term vision than on knocking down his opponent.

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