See, this is why I hate debates.
Not simply because my guy “lost,” but because “win” and “lose” are potential outcomes. This isn’t the varsity debate team at the state semi-finals.
But that’s how it plays in U.S. politics. The presidential election is not so much the horse race of cliché analogy as a multi-sport event, in which Zinger Slinging is but one opportunity to rack up points on your opponent, along with Agenda Setting and Daily Soundbiting.
The Jim Lehrer-moderated debate was supposed to be largely freestyle, and word was that this would allow candidates to compare policies in an in-depth and informative way. Maybe. But clearly President Obama lost points for his wonkiness, petulant or not, and Mitt Romney scored with his practiced, fact-free blather. Well, the guy’s been through a score or more of debates in the last year. Granted, the whack-a-mole parade of contenders was hardly daunting, but the president got busy with the country after swatting away the dynamic John McCain four years ago.
Even this supposedly policy-friendly format produces a performance — not scripted, perhaps, but certainly rehearsed. It exemplifies a society besotted with simulation, for which facts are fungible and dissembling is just another point-earning strategy. Little wonder even the journalists who find the facts in campaign branding tactics are seen as partisan — or dispensable.
So I say Can the Debates. Yeah, Bill Clinton clobbered George H.W. Bush, appearing more feel-your-painy, but both Jimmy Carter and Al Gore lost, at least in part, because of blows landed by their debate opponents. And Clinton, however sincerely he might have felt about it, was tele-acting, a skill Walter Cronkite started teaching candidates 60 years ago this summer. Yes, I’ll take Clinton, anyway, but it troubles me that we choose leaders by how well they play a role.
I want a president, not someone who’s played one on TV.