SAN DIEGO, October 1, 2012 — At long last, the first debate between President Obama and Governor Romney approaches. Many Conservatives view this as a make-or-break event for Romney. Everyone and his brother is offering advice to the poor guy.
Relax, Governor, no matter how well you do, no matter what you say, no matter what your campaign managers advise you NOT to say, the mainstream media have already scored the debate. You lost.
The headlines are already written: “Romney Fails To Make the Case.” “Romney Campaign in Serious Trouble After Wednesday Night.”
That won’t mean you really lost. It won’t mean you won, either.
Spoiler alert: Nobody will win the debate on Wednesday because it will not be a real debate. There may be a perceived winner. Polls and focus groups may favor the man who smiled most, or the guy with the best side-splitting zinger. Perhaps posterity will remember one candidate choking out an unforgettable gaff while the other is smart enough to keep his mouth shut. Focus groups will talk about who “connected with them the best” or who “looked the most presidential.” We’ll find more intelligence from those taking the Pepsi Challenge, then those who react to this “debate.”
In a real debate, each opponent gets an uninterrupted opening statement of a mutually agreed upon length of time. This is followed by a time for rebuttal. Usually a cross-examination is included. This is the most telling part of the debate. Each candidate must answer to the other. If they respond with double talk, hoping nobody will notice they did not answer the question, it becomes painfully obvious. Words and phrases such as “bipartisanship” or “the American people” fail to whitewash a downright dodge. The cross examination is followed by closing statements. Sometimes questions form the audience are taken after the debate proper.
In a real debate, the victor wins on the consistency and accuracy of his points. It does not matter who had the most charisma. Charisma can be a factor, since one must not only make his case, but make it persuasively. Unfortunately, audiences can be sheep and charisma takes on a far too dominant role.
In Bush’s first “debate” with Kerry, Bush made some good points and Kerry sometimes said contradictory things. The conventional wisdom still gave the nod to Kerry. Why? Because throughout the debate, Bush had a “scowling” look on his face.
And everyone remembers the classic Kennedy/Nixon debate, the first time such a forum was televised. (Although that might have been news to Joe Biden.) Those who heard the debate on the radio were mostly responding to the arguments alone because there was no facial expression to watch. Yet, even on radio, Nixon’s voice had the unfair advantage of sounding more authoritative and experienced than Kennedy’s. Those who heard the debate on the radio thought Nixon won. On TV, however, people noticed Nixon sweating while Kennedy looked happy, calm and collected. They may also have noticed that Kennedy was just plain better looking than Nixon. But winning for good looks is a discussion for another day.
In a real debate, the moderator is little more than a referee. True moderators enforce rules which the two opponents mutually agree to, making sure nobody goes over their allotted time and keeping one opponent from interrupting the other. In such a format, it simply does not matter what opinion the moderator holds or who the moderator is secretly rooting for. The moderator’s opinions are not embedded in the questions. Moderators do not set the tone for the debate. Moderators are not selected from media pools where journalism is used for little more than creating Obama infomercials, posing “objective” questions such as:
“Mr. Romney, what would you say to people who think you are too rich to relate to them?”
“President Obama, have the last four years been challenging to your family? How are Michelle and the girls handling the White House? While, we’re on the subject, has the term ‘White House’ become somewhat antiquated? The name does sound racist, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Mr. Romney, why are Republicans waging a war against women? And why are Republicans so critical of the way Muslim countries treat their women? Is it because Republicans don’t respect other cultures?”
“President Obama, can you describe the adrenaline rush on the day you got Osama bin Laden?”
“Mr. Romney, isn’t it hypocritical when Republicans ask President Obama to release the documents for Fast and Furious, or the communications regarding the Libyan embassy before and after September 11? After all, there’s something far more important which you haven’t released; twelve years of tax returns.”
“President Obama, if you could be a vegetable, what kind of vegetable would you be? And would Michelle approve it for school lunch meals?”
And so, Governor Romney, since all the etiquette and diplomacy in the world will do nothing but paint you as a rich, white, racist, unemotional bully, you may as well just take off the gloves and speak the truth to President Obama. Don’t shy away from his terrorist friends, or his weakling foreign policy, or his socialist agenda, or his lies about what is or is not a tax. Who knows, somebody from one of the focus groups might find your candor “refreshing and genuine.” And then, they will think YOU won the debate, even though, once again, it will not be a real debate.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net
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