Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Presidential Debate: Round One

I am writing from the California coast, looking at the Pacific Ocean, and listening to a fog horn blare away.  Jane has yet to rise, confirming my fear that we have adjusted to West Coast time.

Speaking of which, dinner happens right smack in the middle of important TV events out here, so I had to watch last night's debate in two parts - Live and recast with commercial breaks.  The latter made a long debate even longer and definitely tested my seemingly inexhaustible interest in this stuff (check out my vacation reading selection).

To state the obvious, Romney won.  He won big.  As Charles Krauthammer has described, he won by two touchdowns.  And before anyone responds that Romney lied (implying that the President didn't), take a step back and think "Would this have been the first instance of deceit in a political debate?"  Anyone that has engaged in any meaningful form of debate knows how you treat a lie.  You refute it in a way that undermines your opponent's argument.  Obama's counter-punches were garbled nonsense, burying good points in rhetorical trash bags and meaningless anecdotes (Dear Mr. President, Most of us over 30 spent time in K-5 years sitting on the floor of our classrooms.  It is not offensive.)

You know what we should have been sick of hearing about by the end of last night?

"What exemptions and loopholes will you be closing Governor Romney?"
"Thank you, Jim.  Before I answer that, I want to know what exemptions and loopholes..."
"Interesting you should say that, but what I would find more interesting is what exemptions and loopholes..."

Admittedly, there were pulled punches by Romney last night too, but it is hard to criticize what seemed like a near blemish free evening.

If you're on Team Romney, you need to be able to answer this question -- What group of voters is interested enough to watch the Presidential Debate, but not interested enough to have a clear favorite a month before the election?

Presuming some strategy on behalf of Team Obama, and extending Krauthammer's analogy, the President seemed to be putting up a Prevent defense for the crowd he has already won over.  The worst thing that could come out of last night for the President would be a bad gaffe, socialist-imputing sound bite, or signs of losing his cool.  You know, the kind of stuff that gets put on 30 second ads in swing states between Live! with Kelly and the Katie Couric Show.  (Or turn into an Internet Meme).  It was clear in the interviews leading up to the debates that the Obama Campaign was not going for a W.  They promoted Romney's skills as a debater and that he had "much more time to practice."  It was almost like they were winking at their supporters and saying "This may hurt to watch, but its all part of the plan."

Any football fan knows that this is a bad plan.  "The only thing the Prevent defense does is prevent your team from winning."  Playbooks from campaigns past are worthless.  Each election has a new environment with new tools of discourse.  In the 21st Century, you're not winning if people think you're losing, regardless of what the polls stay today.  Popular sentiment spreads like a brush-fire between Facebook, social media, and "tell me now" technology.  That's not to say that minds will be changed, but it does have an effect on those who want to feel a part of a winning team.

It is near impossible, and foolish, to predict what effect this Debate will have on the Election, but I think it will at least wipe out the bump the President received from Romney's infamous 47% remark.  From there it depends on how much the Regular Joe/Jo cares about the 2012 Election and whether he (or she) chose CNN over ESPN on the last night of the regular season.