Patrick Henry—you know, patriot, founding father, revolutionary, etc.—once said: “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” He was looking at the lot of the common man under European monarchies and he knew, like his fellow enlightenment thinkers Donne, Locke, and others, that it was time for a change. Of course, this was when the idea of representative democracy was coming into its own, and its great experiment, the United States of America, was about to erupt as a great beacon of hope in the West. Henry’s words were a call for change, in his case revolutionary change. In last night’s debate, we that same message, though not quite as simply nor as eloquently put.
As he has in his previous debates, Mitt Romney stuck to a simple, straightforward message: The foreign and economic policies of the past four years have left us weakened and unable to properly meet the challenges we face around the world. He backed up that assertion in a way that would make Patrick Henry proud; he cited the experiences of the last four years.
Obama had a slightly more difficult job: He had to defend his policies in the face of Iran’s constantly developing nuclear technology; our obscene levels of national debt, unemployment, and general economic ruin; the resolute resurgence of Russia and China; our inability to properly deal with Al Quida…in other words, the experiences of the last four years that were the direct result of his policies. As a result, he did his best to go on the offensive, citing apparent flip-flops on the Romney side and doing his best to criticize his proposals for the navy, at one point reminding Romney that we no longer use bayonets as much (he’s wrong about that), and describing the aircraft carrier in terms that made me wonder whether or not he’d actually seen one. I have to wonder whether or not that kind of snarky absurdity helped or hurt him.
We’ll learn that as the dust settles and we look for changes in the polls. However, partisanship aside, this debate was instructive in one respect. Experience counts. We have all experienced the last four years, we have all seen what has happened both here and overseas, and we have all felt the direct consequences of Obama’s economic policies in our wallets. For true believers on either side, the actual results don’t matter, they will argue that their guy has won. Happily, neither group is enough of a voting block to elect a president. For the rest of us, this debate was a reminder to look at the experiences of the last four years and ask a question: Do we want more of the same?
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.–Patrick Henry