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Obama had a terrible night, not only because he seemed despondent for some unknown reason, but because he was caught several times making statements that simply were not true.
This is pretty much true, although I would say less despondent than out of it. (I get that a lot--"Is something wrong?" "No, just waiting for bedtime.") So it was hard to tell which of the statements Rhodes details were slipperiness and which were straight fumbled. I find it hard to blame him for screwing up a question like "Do you believe in the American flag?"--huh? I mean, it exists. That's an awfully deep question to throw out during a political debate.
Rhodes and David Brooks agree that patriotic flair is kind of a deal, and abstractly it does kind of make sense, but before everyone gets all worked up about an unpatriotic law prof going against a war hero, take a step back and look at the track record of recent veterans:
Jimmy Carter: Naval captain, one-term president, got beaten like a rented goalie by Ronald Reagan, who played a war hero in the movies. Reagan served two terms.
George H.W. Bush: Highly decorated war hero, one-term president, beaten by a draft-dodger.
Bob Dole: Basically a miracle that he didn't die in WWII. Beaten by same draft-dodger, who served two terms.
John McCain: War heroism goes without saying. Beaten for the 2000 Republican nomination by National Guard flyboy.
Al Gore: Vietnam war opponent, served anyway. Also beaten by GWB.
John Kerry: Highly decorated lieutenant. Also beaten by GWB, who served two terms.
Correlation/causation, I know, and perhaps this just emphasizes the importance of patriotic tchotchkes over evidenced patriotism. But if we're just going on the recent evidence, I think Obama's in trouble for not having had the opportunity to avoid a war. I mean, we're looking at best a one-term president.
Update: Reagan was an enlisted man, a First Lieutenant in the 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City. Mondale was a veteran as well, but as far as I know didn't serve overseas.