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Rhetoric Plays Key Role in Debate

  • Avi Arditti

The third and final debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney focused on foreign policy issues.
Sam Potoliccio, a faculty member at Georgetown University in Washington, is teaching a presidential rhetoric class. After watching Monday's debate with his 15 students, he says Obama had a "very strong night."
"I think he was able to rhetorically establish his command, and I think that was one of the things he set out to do, and he had a couple of lines where he said to Romney 'I know you've never had to execute foreign policy' or 'as commander-in-chief' or 'as the president of the United States," he said.
Potoliccio says his students got a laugh when, halfway through the debate, the commander-in-chief got in a "zinger."
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed," he said.
Potoliccio says that line quickly became a meme, a viral idea, as it sailed across social media.
"Well, the meme that's floating around right now is the 'horses and bayonets' line because I think this was illustrating the larger narrative that Obama was trying to portray Romney as someone who has outdated policies and principles that will bring us backward," he said.

He thinks Governor Romney's most effective strategy during the debate was tying the economy to American foreign policy. "And when he goes off topic, when he goes off the economy, he's not as strong," he said.
Romney was asked to respond to the president's accusations that his policy proposals are "wrong and reckless."
"I’ve got the policy for a future, an agenda for the future. And when it comes to our economy here at home, I know what it takes to create 12 million new jobs and rising take-home pay. And what we’ve seen over the last four years is something I don’t want to see over the next four years," he said.
Probably the most confusing word of the debate was "sequestration." This is the name for automatic budget cuts that Congress plans to begin this January. The money is to be sequestered, or kept away, from federal agencies because a special committee in Congress failed to reach a deficit reduction plan last year.
"The issue here is, I don't think anyone really knows what that word means at all, particularly the average voter. And this gets to another issue is, sometimes if you just use words and you recite statistics - and Paul Ryan did in the vice presidential debate, you talk about certain geographical features of Afghanistan, people just kind of assume you know what you're talking about," he said.
Sam Potoliccio is on the faculty of Georgetown University in Washington and is a visiting professor at the Russian Presidential Academy in Moscow. Election Day is November 6, and some voters already are casting early ballots in what opinion polls show to be a very close race.