Having spent the last two weeks in Tampa and Charlotte at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and listening to an interminable number of political speeches I'd have to say the number of remarkable events, aside from an old man yelling at an empty chair, were somewhat few and far between.
But there was one notable exception on Thursday night at the DNC in Charlotte. In what was a highly effective, though somewhat unremarkable acceptance speech Barack Obama made the following comment, "My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy" -- and then he paused. The crowd, quickly grasping the implications of the comment, began to laugh and then applaud.
It was an amazing moment; even transformational in the politics of national security and foreign policy. Barack Obama and the Democrats weren't simply criticizing the positions of their GOP opponents -- they were openly mocking, even ridiculing them as lightweights, as blusterers and blunderers not up to the responsibility of U.S. global leadership.
It wasn't long ago that this was precisely the line of attack used by Republicans in attacking Democrats like Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and even Barack Obama. To see Obama do it to Romney represents a veritable sea change in how the two parties talk about foreign policy on the campaign trail.
And it wasn't just Obama. Sen. John Kerry, in his barn-burner of a convention speech called Romney an "extreme and expedient candidate, who lacks the judgment and vision so vital in the Oval Office." Together, Romney and Ryan were, "the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades," said Kerry. He joked that "President Mitt Romney" were "three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer" and he suggested that Romney seemed to be basing his analysis of Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe" from too many viewings of Rocky IV.
It's not hard to figure out what's going on here -- Democrats for the first time in decades have a decided advantage on foreign policy and national security issues. In fact, it is the one policy area where Obama has consistently polled the best; and with a track record of killing Osama bin Laden, avoiding any terrorist attacks under his presidency, bringing the troops home from Iraq, and improving the public image of the United States on the global stage, why shouldn't Democrats run on it?
And Kerry's critique of the Republican ticket is spot-on. Not only are Romney and Ryan inexperienced, they are alarmingly unserious. As I noted after the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney devoted a mere 202 words to the foreign policy section of his speech and much of what he said, like accusing Barack Obama of engaging in an apology tour, was either inaccurate or not correct. In recent days, the Romney campaign put out a white paper that chronicles the Obama administration's misdeeds; it's a document that is laughably unserious and demonstrative of a complete lack of understanding about the limits of U.S. military power (the paper actually blames Obama's "lack of leadership" for "failing to ensure a clean Afghan election" in 2009). It shows that the Romney camp is struggling to divine any differences in foreign policy that they can run on -- and so instead appears content to just make stuff up.