Monday, October 8, 2012

Debating the debate

Presidential Debate season is upon us, and that always makes me ponder just what it is the audience for such televised events expect to see. Every four years when they roll around pollsters tell us that debates really don't change anyone's mind.  So why do we tune in?

I think there are many reasons, not the least of which is that these debates are shared media events for a population that often feels overlooked. They are Superbowls for policy wonks, nerds, and student government officers nation-wide. The debate on October 3rd got more than half as many viewers as the most recent, record-breaking Superbowl!

But, contrary to the experts cited in columns across our nation this past week, I did not see it as a "game-changer," a slam-dunk for a "new and improved" Mitt Romney who all of the sudden appeared presidential. Yes, he had some good moments, but those have become legendary as the week has worn on. And for all the "experts" say "optics matter," am I the only one who thought the smile Governor Romney reverted to while listening was tentative and tense? Apparently Jason Sudeikis and the writers and directors at Saturday Night Live remembered it. It reminded me as I watched Wednesday night of the face my Siamese cat used to make when she smelled something really bad. Of course, the President did not do a great job, either: he did look down a lot, and seemed disengaged.

They both rambled. I do not know what debate the other experts and pundits were watching when they proclaimed Governor Romney succinct and to the point: I felt he was suffering from the run-on-sentencitis that Sarah Palin perfected. And the President joined him in the weeds with too many details, too many factoids that the viewing public could not process.

I would say neither man won, in terms of connecting with the audience. Republican partisans I know disagree, but they had set the bar for success for Governor Romney fairly low after his summer of gaffes. They would argue with me, but I stand by my assessment. He had a few good moments, but overall, he sounded like a politician, trying to score points, talking at the audience.

Many people watch these debates for sport, many for schadenfreude, but I have to believe there are still a few (and maybe the most important, the Undecideds) who actually want to connect with the candidates. Who want to see that they are actually talking to their audience, trying to communicate with them. Not lecture to them, talk down to them, or be disengaged for any reason whatsoever.

Only connect, as E.M. Forster would say. It's that simple. And that hard. It will be instructive to see, during the next town-hall-style debate October 16th, if they have gotten better at connecting. In the meantime, the pretty boy of the Right tries to take down the sex symbol of the Left this week as Congressman Ryan meets Vice President Biden. Now that will be good television!

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