Obama, Romney flub history in debate

9:43 am | October 23, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Voters didn’t always get the straight goods when President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney made their case for foreign policy and national security leadership Monday night before their last super-sized audience of the campaign. A few of their detours into domestic issues were problematic too.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

R o m ney flubbed Middle East geography. Obama got Romn e y ’ s record as Massachusetts governor wrong.

At the same time, they injected a little more accuracy into two leading misstatements of the campaign: Romney’s claim for months that Obama went around apologizing for America, and the president’s assertion, going back to his State of the Union address in January, that the U.S. military’s exit from Afghanistan will yield money to rebuild America.

A look at some of their statements and how they compare with the facts:

ROMNEY: “Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations.”

OBAMA: “Nothing Gov. Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign. And every fact checker and every reporter who’s looked at it, governor, has said this is not true.”

THE FACTS: Romney has indeed repeatedly and wrongly accused the president of traveling the world early in his presidency and apologizing for U.S. behavior. Obama didn’t say “sorry” in those travels. But in this debate, Romney at last explained the context of his accusation: not that Obama apologized literally, but that he had been too deferential in his visits to Europe, Latin America and the Muslim world.

Obama said while abroad that the U.S. acted “contrary to our traditions and ideals” in its treatment of terrorist suspects, that “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy,” that the U.S. “certainly shares blame” for international economic turmoil and has sometimes “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even divisive” toward Europe. Yet he also praised America and its ideals.

———

OBAMA: “What I think the American people recognize is, after a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home. And what we can now do is free up some resources to, for example, put Americans back to work, especially our veterans, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools.”

THE FACTS: If Romney’s “apology tour” was a campaign whopper, so has been Obama’s repeated claim that ending expensive wars meant the U.S. now has money to spend at home. There is no such peace dividend because the wars were financed largely by borrowing.

Yet Obama, too, watched his words a little more carefully Monday night, with his milder suggestion that “some resources” are freed up. That’s a more plausible point, if only because U.S. “resources” include the ability to continue to go deeper in debt, but for the purpose of fixing roads, bridges and the like, instead of for making war.

———

ROMNEY: “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.”

THE FACTS: Iran has a large southern coastline with access to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. And it has no land border with Syria.

———

ROMNEY: “I said that we would provide guarantees, and that was what was able to allow these (auto) companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy. Under no circumstance would I do anything other than to help this industry get on its feet. And the idea that has been suggested that I would liquidate the industry. Of course not. That’s the height of silliness. I have never said I would liquidate the industry.”

OBAMA: “Gov. Romney, you keep on trying to airbrush history here. You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies, even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true. They would have gone through a liquidation.”

THE FACTS: It’s true that Romney didn’t preach liquidation of GM and Chrysler and that he saw his approach as a way to save the auto companies. But his was an improbable course. Opposing a government bailout, Romney instead favored private loans to finance the automakers’ restructuring in bankruptcy court. His proposed government loan guarantees would only have come after the companies went through bankruptcy. At the time, however, both automakers were nearly out of cash and were bad credit risks. The banking system was in crisis and private money wasn’t available. So without hefty government aid, the assets of both companies probably would have been sold in liquidation auctions.

———

ROMNEY on SYRIA: “What I’m afraid of is we’ve watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, ‘Well, we’ll let the U.N. deal with it.’ And Assad — excuse me, Kofi Annan — came in and said we’re going to try to have a cease-fire. That didn’t work. Then it went to the Russians and said, ‘Let’s see if you can do something.’ We should be playing the leadership role there.”

OBAMA: “We are playing the leadership role.”

THE FACTS: Under Obama, the United States has taken a lead in trying to organize Syria’s splintered opposition, even if the U.S. isn’t interested in military intervention or providing direct arms support to the rebels. The administration has organized dozens of meetings in Turkey and the Middle East aimed at rallying Syria’s political groups and rebel formations to agree on a common vision for a democratic future after Syrian President Bashar Assad is defeated. And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton brought dozens of nations together as part of the Friends of Syria group to combine aid efforts to Syria’s opposition and help it win the support of as many as Syrians as possible. The U.S. also is involved in vetting recipients of military aid from America’s Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Romney is partly right in pointing out Obama’s failure to win U.N. support for international action in Syria. But the Friends of Syria group has helped bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance to Syrian civilians and the political opposition.

“When I saw the picture, it broke my heart,” Connie said Monday during an interview. “I was going to call him anyway, but the picture made it happen faster.”

•••••

George was 20 years old when he made the climb up the Sycamore tree beside the Covered Bridge to collect mistletoe.

Connie and George had ended their relationship after she decided to break off their one-year relationship because she needed space.

But George wasn’t dwelling on might have been.

“I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time,” George said of his lost relationship with Connie. “I was thinking I needed to make some money.”

To make sure it was OK to climb the tree to harvest the mistletoe, George called the Elizabethton Police Department, who dispatched over the scanner that George would be in the tree collecting mistletoe. That dispatch alerted the STAR to his presence at the Covered Bridge park.

Bryant, knowing it would make a good photo, picked up his camera and made his way to the park, where he snapped a picture of George in the tree with some of the mistletoe he collected. The information under the picture, which ran on Dec. 22, 1981, quoted George as saying he didn’t know how many kisses the mistletoe would bring him.

What the mistletoe did, however, was bring George and Connie back together.

Connie remembered that she had been thinking about George and was planning to get back in touch with him. Then she saw his photo collecting, of all things, mistletoe.

Connie’s sister, Stella, called George and asked him for his autograph and asked him to come over to her house for supper. Connie stopped by at the same time and also asked George for his autograph.

The couple reunited and have been together ever since.

“I think she was plotting to get us back together,” Connie said of her sister.

The couple first met through a work program at East Tennessee State University when Connie was still in high school. They dated for almost another year after their reunion before getting married on Oct. 23, 1982. Connie wanted to wait until after she graduated high school to get married. The couple chose not to have a big wedding. Instead, they were married in her parents’ living room by Charles Hill Jr.

“It’s not the wedding that matters,” Connie said. “It is the marriage that happens after the wedding that is important. It is hard to believe we have been married for 30 years.”

The couple said there is no big secret to having a marriage last for 30 years. Connie said it was important to take it one day at a time and for couples to keep God in their lives.

George said trust is important. He also advised to walk away from arguments and to talk about the disagreement after both people have had a chance to cool down.

“We don’t really argue that much,” Connie said. “After 30 years, what is there left to argue about?”

George is maintenance supervisor at Watauga Square Apartments and Retirement Home in Johnson City. He has also served as pastor at Tabernacle of God since 2004 and hosts a worship service at Watauga Square in Johnson City and Bethel Housing in Jonesborough once a month. Connie has worked as a sales associate at Walmart for 10 years.

The couple have two daughters, Kimberly Harrison and Karen Berry. They have two granddaughters, Chesnie Harrison and Autumn Harrison, and a Berry granddaughter on the way.

“That is a lot of kisses from that mistletoe,” George said. “I lost count of how many I got from it.”

Debate

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