I watched the debate on Wednesday. Regardless of the outcome, I don’t plan to change my vote.
I watched it on PBS (hmm… given what Romney said, if he gets elected this might have been the last presidential debate I’d have watched on PBS.) I agreed with David Brooks’ and Mark Shields’ assessment that Romney was strong in the debate and Obama showed “some rust.”
The commentary since then has used a lot of words to describe the this debate like some sort of prize fight. Romney “won” it. Obama “lost” it. OK, so maybe this is an appropriate assessment if this was a high school debate, but it was not.
Fact checkers had to work overtime for this one. As I listened I was really surprised that Romney disavowed his own positions which he claimed as recently as a week ago. Or I could give him the benefit of the doubt and just say he’s been dishonest all these months by keeping his moderate positions in the closet while he ran hard to the right. Lest, one thinks I’m picking on Romney, Obama was slippery with the truth too. Claiming a $4 trillion cut in the deficit while winding down the war in Afghanistan is stretching that claim because the total effect of Romney’s disavowed $5 trillion tax cut won’t look so bad when he can count winding down the same war.
Measuring the debates through a won-loss lens should not be the point. Rather, we should evaluate the debates on their effectiveness to inform and educate the public. That both candidates were less than forthright was a problem. One can say, “Well, Romney was less forthright than Obama,” but that’s not really comforting if we expect debates to be informative.
Each candidate presented a blizzard of facts without a lot of substance. Describing it with a food metaphor, I’d say it was like Italian meringue, a delicate, sweet, airy confection that is not filling or nutritious. I was especially taken by Romney’s health care plan, which will provide some of the good provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act without any real explanation to make them a reality.
The losers in the debate were us, the public, the voters. Facts without substance. Truth is fungible. A little condescending, no?
The media played into this too. Listening to the commentators or reading the news articles was like a theater review. Then, maybe that’s all these debates are in the end, political theater.
That may explain why our politics are so shallow. We’re not being asked to think beyond who is more “presidential” in stature.
When I look at the future, I see a landscape that is very different than the world 10 or 15 years ago. I see the rising economies of China, India, and Brazil. I see our own country where the the majority will soon be people of color. I see rising inequality and inequity here in this country. I see the globalization of capital. I see technology reshaping the way we work, communicate, and interact. They present challenges for our future, but I don’t hear how we might have to change our perspectives today in order to prepare for that tomorrow.
Some, probably a lot, would argue that we’re not prepared to listen to this. They make a good point, but should our institutions always cater to the lowest common denominator? Doesn’t that eventually lower our expectations of ourselves? Wouldn’t it be better to re-think the way we evaluate these debates with the possibility that over time we can elevate the level of our political discourse to be deeper than a mud puddle?