If debates are meaningless, why have them at all?
Why do the television networks promote a debate for days and send frontline reporters to cover them?
Why is there ad nauseam post-debate commentary from the moment one debate ends until the next one takes place?
Why do both sides usually claim victory almost before the candidates even leave the stage?
Why does the press breathlessly flock to the overly congested sea of humanity in the “spin room” to find out what each side accomplished?
Perhaps most noteworthy is why do broadcast networks go to their archives time and again to dig out important footage from past debates to highlight the effects they had on previous elections?
Isn’t that a lot of expense and effort to cover events that have little or no significance?
One could readily argue that the debate season in 2012 has already made an impact. There have been two rounds of a four round boxing match, and both have left plenty of additional debate for pundits and voters alike.
But consider for a moment that the experts are correct and individual debates in and of themselves result in virtually no concrete impressions on voters.
Now let’s look at Debate #1 between President Obama and contender Mitt Romney.
Even Obama’s most ardent supporters were distraught at the president’s performance. Call it what you like; overconfidence, lack of preparation, arrogance, underestimating the opponent, not wanting to be there, altitude or any number of other reasons. Pick one, or any combination of the above, and the overwhelming reaction was that Barack Obama lost.
Some analysts claimed that Obama was a poor communicator when he is off-prompter. Others felt that the bar for the president’s credentials was set so high that he had no place to go but down. Still others said the president was disengaged and/or tired.
A few, mostly from his own side of the aisle, said that Mitt Romney was better prepared, more eloquent and did a better job at arguing his case. A few. Not many. Most of the mainstream press said Obama lost rather than Romney won.
Just days before the debate, many polls were touting Obama as a clear winner in the election itself. Forget the debates, the numbers were spreading so fast, some even into double digits, that there was no way for Romney to recover. Especially in an “insignificant” debate.
Somehow things changed overnight following Round One, however.
In the days that followed the debate, Obama’s lead narrowed, the media panicked, the
Then came Debate #2 between the vice presidential candidates. This one was supposed be even more inconsequential than the first Obama/Romney debate.
Perhaps the analysis would have been accurate, except for one thing. Joe Biden showed up looking like the Chesire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. There were times when his attitude seemed almost maniacal.
It was a clever, calculated strategy. Detract from your opponent so viewers do not see or hear what he is saying. It was nothing more than a smoke screen to kill as much of the 90-minute session as possible with obfuscation and lies so that no meaningful discourse could occur.
Biden’s antics became the primary talking point. Substantive issues were left uncovered to any satisfactory degree, but that was by design. Some say Biden won. A few gave it to Ryan, but mostly the debate was scored about even, with perhaps a slight edge to the vice president.
But there is a catch. Combined with Romney’s strong performance in the first debate, Biden may have accomplished his immediate task while losing more than he gained. The women’s vote, which has been so critical to Obama campaign, may have taken a sharp turn toward Romney as a result of Biden’s antics.
Two debates remain. Debate #3 will be a town hall format which is more to Obama’s liking. This time he will be engaged. There is no doubt about that.
There could be a major hurdle ahead, however. Mitt Romney was not successful because he was unprepared when it came to running a business. He will be ready for whatever tricks the president has up his sleeve. Though Romney may not enjoy the resounding victory he had the first time around, he will undoubtedly hold his own.
Whether the singular remaining debates are important or not, the four individual contests could have a devastating cumulative effect on the mood of a nation that is already more undecided than most experts admit.
In that sense, the debates of 2012 will, indeed, have a major impact on the election.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in
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