The first of three debates between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was held on Wednesday night. For days, every pundit, political expert and campaign adviser has weighed in on it. I think even the local weatherman in Denver has reported on the position of the moon and the possibility of rain. I’ve had CNN droning on in the background for a good part of the day and listened as all of them gave their pre-game predictions. Wolf Blitzer informed me that the Romney’s had finished dinner at The Cheesecake Factory and were headed to the University of Denver. I hope they had some cheesecake because it really is good. It was reported that the Obamas were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary today and had to postpone a more personal and private celebration in light of this prior commitment. I would like to extend my congratulations to them both. I’ve always thought that October was a lovely time of year for a wedding.
This will be eleventh presidential election for which I’ve been eligible and privileged to vote. It also means that I’ve sat through so many of these debates that I’ve lost count. My choices for President when I could first cast a ballot were Richard Nixon and George McGovern, and we were still losing too many young soldiers in Vietnam. The country wasn’t in a very good place and we were at odds over just about everything. I don’t remember much of what was said by the candidates during the debates over these past forty years. All that really comes to mind are what the main stream media refers to as gaffes and zingers. I, like many of those who have watched, remember brief moments that either made us laugh or made us simply cringe. Although I can’t really say that I have any independent memory of it, having been a little too young to care, I’ve seen the images from the 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. Nixon broke into a flop sweat that made him look as if he was a suspect in the middle of a police interrogation. The charming and handsome prince of Camelot sailed right through it. It wasn’t what decided that election and Kennedy’s winning, but it sure didn’t do much to help Nixon.
There were other instances which the media is calling “game changers”. President Ronald Regan joked that he wouldn’t hold Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience against him”. Michael Dukakis seemed nonplussed regarding the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife. Dan Quayle tried to compare himself with Jack Kennedy which resulted in a resounding verbal backhand from Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who sharply reminded him that he was “no Jack Kennedy”. George H.W. Bush was caught looking at his watch during a debate and Al Gore, in a ill-chosen display of exasperation, just sighed.
Are they game changers? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think that there isn’t much that a candidate can say or do during a debate that’s going to sway the minds of many voters, especially this late in the game and especially during this election cycle. Everything I’ve seen and read is telling me that Americans have made up their minds about who they want to lead the Country for the next four years. We know where both of these men stand on the issues and very little new, if anything, will be learned during these three forums. There will be what the media calls a “bump” in approval ratings for one of the candidates, but those are usually short-lived. I’m not diminishing the role of the undecided voters, although I don’t know who they are or where they’ve been. Saturday Night Live did a sketch devoted to their confusion and concerns, and Bill Maher simply decided that they must be “dipshits”.
That won’t stop every form of media from weighing in on these debates. As soon as they’re over, the reporters will leap into action. They’ll parse out every word, as if the entire time the candidates and the moderators were speaking in Farsi, leaving us in need of an interpreter. When they’re done with the candidates’ actual statements and responses, the media will move on to explain why each of them wore a particular color of tie, why they blinked or moved their hand a certain way. That’s what’s so wonderful about political correspondents – they have psychic super-powers and can read into things that we don’t see or know anything about. They may even try to convince us that they’re mediums by channeling the thoughts and opinions of presidents who have passed away. We’re lucky to have them. In case you were wondering, there were about 3,000 reporters covering the Denver debate. I’m sure at least one of them could tell us who made the candidates’ suits and what brand of shoes they were wearing. Others will be available to report on what the First Lady and Mrs. Romney chose as attire, and, when they run out of fashion critiques, they could also tell us what each outfit cost. Then everybody can meet back at The Cheesecake Factory and let us know how good their dessert was.
The Huffington Post listed the top 100 Twitter feeds that we should follow during the debates. That number alone made me dizzy – never mind all of the individual tweeters who weigh in with their various comments, some of which may actually be polite and insightful.
The next two debates for president are scheduled for October 16th, at Hofstra University in New York and October 22nd, at Lynn University in Boca Raton. There’s one vice presidential debate on October 11th, at Centre College in Kentucky. I’ll watch each and every one of them, because I’m a news and political junkie. I still find the entire process fascinating, even if it seems to have become a whole different animal during my lifetime. I won’t do a play-by-play for you or interpret anything that any of the candidates have to say. You don’t need me for that. Frankly, we’ll all get more of that than we’ll be able to endure without going crazy. I like to think that most of us are smart and informed people, who have done our own due diligence – something that hasn’t yet dawned on all of those talking and spinning heads who think we need their version of “Debates for Dummies”. When all is said and done, the real winners or losers are us, and we’ll decide which is which.