I was going to write about another book for my second RealQuick Review, but I decided instead to review tonight’s presidential debate, which as an unusually policy-heavy debate deserves a great deal of review.
Note: In the sense that this review is actually quite long, it is not really a “RealQuick” Review. Nonetheless, now that I’ve written it, I’ve decided to publish it here. In the words of Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be king.” As always, please feel encouraged to leave your thoughts in the comments section.
What we saw tonight was two candidates who were very comfortable talking about policy specifics, even going back and forth on minor points regarding Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank Act. Admittedly, none of that probably matters to you, so I’ll focus on the things that were left unsaid in the debate and the overall style of the production. I’m going to focus on choices made by the candidates, the moderator, and the stylistic choices made by ABC.
First of all, Obama was most effective tonight when he focused on values. At one point he explained how, through cause-and-effect, values lead to choices and how “budgets reflect choices.” In a sense, Obama indirectly insinuated that Romney had an inferior system of values while simultaneously asserting that his own values–which he claimed descended from Abraham Lincoln–had positive real-world outcomes (“growth”) by guiding him to invest in America’s neediest citizens. He did this when he defended Obamacare, and he did it again when he talked about education, and again when he defended his choices on Medicare. Aside from the content of his policy, he was also very cool and collected, both when speaking and when listening to Romney. Frankly, he looked like he was having a good time. He got four stars.
Romney, on the other hand, didn’t seem as collected, confident, or genuine as Obama. To say that he didn’t seem as confident doesn’t mean that he didn’t seem aggressive, but it does mean that he seemed to be much more self-conscious than Obama. For example, only while he was speaking did he ever wipe this particular smirk off of his face (you may have had to be watching on ABC, which gave each candidate half the screen so that you could always see both of their faces). It was apparent to anybody paying attention that Romney tried to make it appear as if he was having a good time with this odd smile, but in truth he looked menacing, as anybody does when they are faking a smile. That aside, Romney’s strong points were when he was on the attack, critiquing the president. The problem for Romney here was that after critiquing Obama’s policies, Obama always asked him to explain what he would do differently. Sometimes Romney had a decent answer, but most of the time he did not. At one point, he started talking about what he did while he was the governor of Massachusetts, and Lehrer (the moderator) interrupted and said, “No. What would you do today?” Romney fumbled a bit and then ad libbed, but it was clear that he just didn’t have a real answer. He didn’t do poorly, and he didn’t fail, but did he gain any ground? I don’t think that he did. I would give Romney four stars, but he needs more than that if he wants to catch up to Obama in this election.
As for Jim Lehrer [the moderator], he had great questions. They were very concrete, he insisted on getting a straight answer out of both candidates, and he always forced them to clarify exactly where they disagreed on policy. The way he finished each segment with, “Then you agree that there is a substantial policy difference between you two on this topic? Good!” was unusual and welcome, because, well… presidential debates don’t usually involve policy. For example, this week’s debate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown was consumed by whether the candidates considered one another trustworthy”, and whether Warren lied about being a Native American. Watching the uncharismatic Warren flail about for answers while Brown assaulted her with a silver tongue annoyed me, and it reminded me just how petty the media can be. You get to interview two candidates who are neck-and-neck for a senate seat and you ask them about that? So in that respect, Lehrer gets at least four stars.
Finally, I think that ABC made some good editorial decisions and some bad ones. Cutting the screen in half so that you could always see both candidates was a very good decision. I enjoyed seeing the difference between Obama’s cool wit while listening to Romney and Romney’s creepy smirk while listening to Obama. As for the quotations that ABC ran across the bottom of the television, they distracted from the debate but they didn’t add anything. It was all just rhetoric from political stump speeches. Similarly, their choice to feature twitter comments with hashtag #debate on the screen seemed pointless. I counted four or five that talked about Big Bird, though I couldn’t tell you why, and the rest were not in the realm of interesting. ABC gets three stars for its production.
Overall, I think most people could get something out of watching this debate, which is an enormous surprise given my attitude going in. I entirely expected that it would be another joke debate like we often saw in the Republican primaries, but we got a good sample of serious policy discussion. The production overall receives four stars.
So, does the way I pulled this debate apart make sense to you, or would you have graded it on different criteria? Sound off below!