“Round 3 could be their most heated debate yet!” CNN promised in a graphics-heavy and dramatically soundtracked teaser that played more like a promotional ad for a Saturday night pro wrestling Smack-Down than an ongoing dialectic upon which the leadership of the “Free World” hinges.
Obama started out strong with a rhetorical body-slam: “Gov. Romney, I'm glad you recognize al-Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what is the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not al-Qaeda. And the 1980's are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years. But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980's, the social policy of the 1950's, and the economic policies of the 1920's.”
Inevitably, when pundit talk has turned to the debates, we’ve heard the impassioned, doleful cries of those who say that the “negativity” has gotten altogether too far out of control. Americans want solutions, the platitude goes, not more of this partisan mud-slinging.
Tell us what you’ll do for our country, the talking heads implore our candidates in a sure-fire provocation of righteous head-nodding amongst their viewership, not what you think the other guy is incapable of.
But this is all disingenuous rhetoric. The feel-good lies of the fair-weather moderate. America gets what it asks for, and throughout the course of these debates the American media has insisted upon dragging the dialogue down into the mud.
We ask for solutions, but doze off in boredom when details are discussed. We ask for answers while we eschew the facts. We pretend to seek decorum, while we demand confrontation.
The first debate was about as dignified as a modern presidential debate could be. It was surprisingly free of the usual repetitions of contrived sound-bites and committee-approved catch phrases we’ve become all too accustomed to... but for Mitt Romney’s attempts to introduce the phrase “trickle-down government” -- an effort that was doomed to failure, as he never adequately described quite what he meant.
Obama, giving an air of supreme confidence throughout, thanked Romney afterward for a “fantastic debate”, only to find that public perception would deem him aloof and unconvincing, and thus the “loser” of the debate. Never was the question one of whose facts were the most convincing and accurate, or whose plan the most viable. The polls were in before the fact checks were, and soon there was no undoing the purely atavistic and irrational preliminary conclusions (be they incidentally correct, or entirely wrong).
Why, it was demanded, did Obama fail to mention Romney’s moronic and divisive 47% remark? Never mind that we were all already quite well aware of the the 47% faux pas. The debates are clearly no place to try and introduce new information.
Not surprisingly, the second debate was more “fiery” and contentious, and the Obama campaign not only dredged up Romney’s well-known mistakes, but soon coined a new one-word zinger: “Romnesia”. This was language a mindless mob could rally behind. The president, it seemed, was on a comeback.
Running up to the third debate, CNN helpfully prepped its viewers on how to read the body language of the candidates. Not how to read the candidates’ own dispositions from their body language, mind you, but how to accurately read what the common idiot will probably perceive from each candidate’s body language. What matters is the primal impressions of the lowest common denominator, and even the informed public has been conditioned to judge the performance of the candidates on how well it seems they appealed to the mentally deficient masses. Who gave the better argument in the vice presidential debate? Who cares? The real question, it seems, is how Joe Biden’s smile was received.
In debate 3, Romney dropped the ball hard, utterly failing to answer the question of how he intended to balance his budget, suggesting instead that the moderator look to find such information on the Romney campaign website. Will this hurt Romney’s chances? Not if people find his helmet-like hair assuring and regal, rather than disconcerting. Will Obama’s leering forward leaning posture be seen as commanding and focused, or will it be defined as slouched and uncomposed?
The biggest point of contention came when Romney insisted he would have offered government support for the auto industry, while Obama remained resolutely steadfast that Romney had been clear that he would have not provided government support, but would have left the auto industry to find aid within the private market. Both of them were emphatic, eventually only agreeing that “people can look it up.”
They can, of course. But they won’t. Nor do they care.
Who won the debate? My feeling is that the perception of Idiot America is utterly arbitrary, and we’ll only know in the coming hours which way the wind is blowing and where the momentum is running. Let’s not fool ourselves -- it has little to nothing to do with content or facts.