Hollow Presidential Debates

Hollow Presidential Debates

Everyone recalls the first televised presidential debate in 1960 with a mixture of nostalgia and wonderment. With two of the era’s most polarizing figures pitted face-to-face on the grand stage of living rooms nationwide, it was JFK’s shrewd adoption of glossy television set techniques that helped swing the momentum of the debate in his favor. While those listening to the debate on radio polled the overwhelmingly that Nixon won the debate, television viewers sided emphatically on the other end of the spectrum, casting their opinion for JFK. While JFK sported make-up, a fresh tan, and took special care to rest thoroughly before the event, Nixon arrived at the debate only a couple hours removed from the campaign trail, fresh from a hospital stay, with a five-o’clock shadow sans make-up.

All sounds pretty quaint, right? An American public so easily swayed by cosmetic image? We’re so much more sophisticated now, right? We are so much more informed and have so many more resources knowledge at our disposal, no?

How can we say that debates have evolved at all with the way the first presidential debate of 2012 was received and analyzed?

While both candidates clung to their respective narratives and did their best to carve out an overarching theme to their words, the post-debate comment seemed to completely ignore content and instead focused on attitude. Mitt Romney came out with a focused aggressiveness, that, at times, came off as testy, while Barack Obama seemed a bit cold and aloof.

Maybe Obama assumed a floundering Romney campaign couldn’t muster a comprehensive strategy with all of the damage control they’ve been consumed with in the weeks prior? Maybe Obama thought Romney couldn’t talk his way out of discussions of his tax-break policy? If either were the case, he severely over-thought the strategy behind successful presidential debates. He should have known that debates aren’t won with logical arguments or sound policy theory. They’re won with image. And Romney was able to ‘win’ the debate with simple enthusiasm. By actually appearing that he was engaged, whether it was getting a bit petulant with Jim Lehrer over turns, or facing Obama for his rebuttals, Romney actually sold himself as the more passionate candidate on debate night. And for that, he came out victorious. Too bad we couldn’t learn any solid details about his plan to lower taxes on the wealthy while also reducing the deficit.