This morning I’m starting to wonder if I watched a different debate from everybody else.
I think maybe I did.
Jeanne Devon and I live-blogged the debate on Jeanne’s blog on The Mudflats. At the end of the debate I said:
Well, that’s that. I don’t think there were any surprises. I’m biased, but I think Obama will be called the winner on this one, at least outside Fox…
Today it would appear that I was wrong.
Apparently Obama will not be declared the victor.
In my defense, I was basing my prediction on an analysis of past criticisms of Barack Obama’s debate performances, criticism he obviously took to heart, and an expectation of consistency by both his critics and the media.
In retrospect, I probably should have known better.
Polls taken immediately after the debate showed nearly seven in ten viewers thought Romney was the clear winner. According to Seamus McGraw writing for Fox News, Obama didn’t just have a bad night, he had a “bad attitude.” McGraw thought the president seemed by turns detached and irritated and “clearly ill-prepared to face a motivated Romney.”
I didn’t see that.
Bad attitude? Uh, okay, Seamus, but are you sure you’re not just smelling anal leakage from Clint Eastwood in the studio next door?
Again, I’m not sure these people were watching the same debate I did. I watched the unadulterated C-Span live feed, maybe McGraw and the other pundits were watching one of Fox’s cameras, the one with the OMG! Nazis! filter engaged. Beats me.
I thought Romney and Obama were both well prepared, and I’d expect nothing less with these two.
To me, Obama seemed confident and relaxed and a bit jovial. Mitt seemed confident as well, but I thought he seemed a little frenetic, a bit strident, but not overly so.
I thought Obama worked hard to appear politely attentive while Romney was speaking, though he wasn’t always completely successful and maybe that’s where McGraw gets his impression of irritation on the president’s part.
I think Mitt needs to work on that smirk – I don’t think it’s deliberate, but he’s got this little half smile that comes across, at least to me, as condescending and disrespectful, like the CEO waiting for you to stop talking so he can tell you why you’re wrong. And his obviously prepared zingers fell flat.
In fact there were no really memorable lines by either candidate.
I thought both candidates did reasonably well. I would have put the President ahead on likability, but that’s a perception thing and I admit to bias. If you don’t like Obama, you’re not going to like Obama. If you don’t like Romney, you’re not going to like Romney. The debate isn’t going to change that and I thought Obama got the better of it.
Clearly, I’m in the minority this morning.
But then again, I usually am.
Frankly, I thought the whole thing was a waste of time. This isn’t a new thought, I’ve never had much use for staged political debates and other contests that consist primarily of pecker-waggling.
I’d much rather see the candidates one on one with a hardnosed panel of expert interrogators in a series of interviews, each segment devoted to a specific topic.
I want them to answer questions in detail without moving the goals posts. Don’t tell me why the other guy sucks, tell me what you would do, specifically and in detail. No generalities and we have fact-checkers online who will be providing real-time feedback for each and every one of your answers. Look directly into the camera and address America.
Start by explaining your economic policy in detail, step by step, here’s a Dry-Erase board and a marker, show your work. If it takes ten hours, well, then it takes ten hours. It’s the single most important topic America faces right now, we don’t expect it to be simple. You may consider this similar to defending a doctorial dissertation. While you’re at it, give us a detailed summary of how you will create jobs, pay off the debt and reduce the deficit, grow business, revise regulations, and address the tax code. Provide supporting information and references and the relevant footnotes. Don’t give us any crap about it being too complicated either, if you can’t explain it to the general population, you can’t explain it to the idiots in Congress. We’ve got a battery of non-partisan experts back here, they’ll be stopping you periodically to examine specific points. You may begin.
Give us a complete rundown of your foreign policy. Address how you will approach each problem in detail (we might need multiple segments for foreign policy, each night devoted to a different area). For example: Iran, when you say that all options “are on the table” explain precisely what that means and what the consequences are. List each option and explain them in detail. Start with the nuclear option, then conventional war with and without coalition/UN support, military action short of war, non-military intervention, diplomacy, and so on. Describe precisely how many American casualties you, as president, are willing to accept to achieve each goal, you may round to the nearest power of ten (i.e. 100. 1000. 10,000. And so on). Describe to the nearest billion exactly how much of the American treasury you, as president, would be willing to spend on this endeavor and exactly where that money will come from, including skyrocketing gasoline and energy prices and how many generations you expect it will take to pay off the tab.
Who are your top ten picks for the Supreme Court? Your cabinet? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? Head of the CIA? The Federal Reserve. The EPA. And so on.
Describe how you will address the concerns, rights, and liberties of all Americans – not just the ones who voted for you. Describe your stance on each important social issue. E.g. if you oppose same sex marriage, describe why, describe in precise detail how it affects your marriage personally or denies traditional marriage proponents their rights as Americans – you must answer this and other social issue questions as The President, i.e. you may not use your religion or political party’s talking points, you must describe your support or opposition strictly in accordance with the Constitution of the United States. Period. Again, we have a panel of experts back here and we’ll be fact checking each point. Let’s start with abortion.
We could even have a segment of questions posed by average Americans as chosen randomly via social media.
See? I think something like that would be useful. We could devote a cable channel to it. All candidates get equal time and the same battery of questions. All political contributions could be taxed a certain percentage to pay for it.
Debates, on the other hand, seem to me to be little more than political theater.
Sure, they’re entertaining to some extent, but other than that I don’t think they serve much purpose.
Especially last night’s debate.
Both Jeanne and I were hoping for a target rich environment, the kind of thing political bloggers live for – especially during a live blog where you’d really like to be able to chime with a running counterpoint of irreverent smartassery.
Honestly, I was hoping for some surprises, some stellar gaffs, some real zingers and sound bites.
Maybe even a swear word or even some fisticuffs.
Instead, well, Meh.
What did you learn last night? Both candidates spent an hour and a half repeating the same exact things they’ve been saying on the stump for the last month – including demonstratively wrong information that has been soundly fact checked and is being soundly fact checked again today.
Both Romney and Obama arrived well prepared and with their own set of talking points and neither deviated from their programs – both sets of handlers should be proud. Both candidates were reasonably well spoken, neither said anything even vaguely surprising, there were no real quotable moments, no “gotcha” zingers. No swear words or fisticuffs, damn the luck.
I recorded the debate and after I’d logged off The Mudflats, I watched it again hoping for maybe a few nuggets I could turn into a comedy post. Four years ago in the debates between Barack Obama and John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, combined with alcohol and well, you know the jokes just sort of wrote themselves. Last night? Meh.
There wasn’t any Jesus tossing.
There weren’t even any Nazis.
That’s why we watch debates in the first place, right? For the comedy, for the entertainment. For the mud wrestling. For the drama and the laughs. That’s the whole point. Without that, what do you have? I mean, what’s NASCAR without some spectacular crashes? Just a bunch of rednecks driving around in a circle, see? That’s what I’m talking about here. Who would watch that? Big deal. Nobody would watch Ice Road Truckers or Big Brother if there weren’t tears and fights and drama. If the mean old bastard with the giant white mustache wasn’t such a complete asshole, American Chopper would be just a couple of toothless dipshits building a motor scooter in their garage – hell, you might as well watch bass fishing. Or golf.
Presidential debates are the original reality TV – maybe we should lock the candidates and their families in a house with one bathroom for a month and monitor them on MTV.
That’s what we want in a presidential debate.
We want passion and strong language and feats of verbal derring-do. Fisticuffs would be good too. And some swearing. Jesus tossing. Also, well, you know.
Because, really, let’s face it, presidential debates aren’t much good for anything other than entertainment. It’s not like the skills displayed in a presidential debate are something the future President is actually going to use in his actual job. The president isn’t going to stand at a podium next to Wen Jiabao and argue international trade policy with China. He’s not going to stand on a stage with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and debate Iran’s nuclear program while some hapless moderator tries to keep them on track. Though, you know, it might be fun to try, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, you have two minutes to describe why North Korea’s long range nuclear missiles are really heroic instruments of peace. Go…” Sure, and then the press decides who the winner is, “The US President was clearly off balance when Vladimir Putin, instead of answering a question about his country’s role in the Syrian civil war, suddenly ripped off his shirt and proceeded to wrestle a large hungry Siberian tiger to the death on stage…”
What a different world that would be, eh?
This morning, most of the negative commentary regarding the debate seems focused squarely on poor Jim Lehrer instead of either of the candidates.
And that’s a shame, really.
To be fair, without the option to administer disabling electric shocks via Taser cannon or the ability to cut off microphones, I’m not sure exactly what Lehrer was supposed to do. Both candidates agreed to the rules and then both willfully violated them, and because of that I’m not so sure Lehrer deserves the level of criticism he’s getting today.
Then again, Jim Lehrer has been around for a long time, this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s a tough and savvy customer and he knew what he was getting into. Hopefully he’ll just go back to being retired and let the criticism die a quiet death.
That said, maybe we should rethink this whole thing.
Debates are basically reality TV, right?
Let’s run with that.
Instead of a distinguished newsman, maybe we should get that mean old son of a bitch from American Chopper to moderate the next debate.
Seriously, tell me you wouldn’t watch that, because that would be awesome.
Also, one of the candidates should wrestle a tiger.
To the death.