Thursday, October 4, 2012
News or Entertainment, You Be the Judge
There's endless analysis of the first debate last night. It'll go on for the next few days. Driftglass has a good post up. So does Edroso. You can click my links to see what each of them says. No doubt all the networks will be talking about it starting last night. I have little to add, except a few personal observations, including one Libby made just before she turned the thing off and starting a solitaire game on her computer.
For some reason the national media tends to analysis the debate process as if it were performance art, or at least performance. In some ways this is true. Events in the political process generally--all of which, added together, amount to a kind of running "debate" which is ended with an election, which usually provides a victor and a loser--events have an enormous performance aspect when viewed against the whole voting population. A good example might be Ed Muskie's tears.
This is the "zinger" factor. Mr. Romney tossed at least one into the blah last night. Zingers are not usually decisive points in a conversation. They are memorable lines in a play. The American media is much more focused on the play than on the conversation. It's a long term trend. The stated Republican view about this trend is that conflating the two things is actually correct. Delphic one might say. As has been true way too much over my lifetime, Democrats tend to go along, but drag their heels.
What happened last night was that a well-coached Romney performed. I'll bet he watched a lot of film of Reagan in action. I thought his accent even changed a bit towards Reagan's. Mr. Obama seemed to walk on stage believing that he could easily win on facts. His "zingers" were the rather stale ones he's used for a number of years. They included "I'm a good husband and family man," and "my grandmother and grandfather, who raised me, were lower middle class." Mr. Obama was not mentally prepared to deal directly and confrontationally with Mr. Romney's obvious distortions. He also allowed Mr. Romney to essentially shout him and the moderator down a few times.
As a result, in the realm of "performance," Romney probably "won." Whether that matters in the least is unknowable, or at best poll-able over the next week or so. At which pint the bright and shiny Veep debate will obscure our memories. Mr. Obama could have been much much clearer. He still has all the facts on his side. For one small example, when Mr. Romney said that people over 60 could stop listening as the two of them discussed the future of Medicare and Social Security, Mr. Obama might well have strenuously objected. I know I did. Morally, those of us on the north side of that line had better be concerned about our fellow citizens on the south side of it. As King Lear demonstrated, we all get older.
Libby said she thought Mr. Obama was tired. She said she bet he'd been worrying about the Syria/Turkey thing that's about to blow up. She was probably right. Mr. Obama has some other stuff to do every day besides practice lines for the school play. We ought to all keep that in mind. That's on the side of reality, not performance.
Mr. Pierce has some excellent points re the sport of it all. He's a sports writer, so he would know:
At the same time, qua performance, Mr. Obama does have a competent staff. If Mr. Pierce could think up these points all on his own, then Mr. Obama could have had some of them written on his hand if necessary. The overarching point about the First Debate qua performance is, Mr. Romney was able to avoid all mention of the gigantic negative features of this past year's Republican activities, including his own. Qua performance, what Mr. Obama had better do from now on in is stop trying to communicate with a person who isn't interesting in conversation. This has, in a sense, been Mr. Obama's issue from Day One of his Presidency.