Thoughts on the First Presidential Debate of 2012
We’re live-blogging tonight’s debate over at my place. Come have a look — and follow along or join in.
Anyway, some preliminary thoughts to add to the great commentary here at TMV this evening:
It all starts now, or so spin Romney and his surrogates, hoping (against hope) that the debates, starting tonight, can be the “game changer” (yes, there it is again) they need it to be, what with the campaign — and their chances — slipping ever further away.
This is obviously a great deal to hope. And even as they’ve been playing the expectations game to make Obama the favorite to “win” (therefore making a strong showing by Romney all the more meaningful, a win of its own, though their efforts are now beyond parody), they’ve been building up the expectations around the significance of the debate itself, turning it into the campaign’s defining event to date.
Yet contrary to the relentless media spin — and the media do this to build up the drama, and therefore to build themselves up, not just to boost their ratings but to enhance their self-aggrandizing image of themselves — presidential debates mean very little, historically speaking.
Think back, if you can, through the mists of time. What debate ever mattered in any significant way? Sure, there were some memorable lines — zingers — along the way, notably Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” in his Veep debate with Quayle in ’88, but really you have to go back to 1960, when Nixon fared so poorly in terms of his appearance, looking sweaty and shifty, that to television viewers it was evidently a clear win for that very same Jack Kennedy, even if, on substance, it was a draw at worst for then-Veep Nixon.
But 2012 isn’t 1960. Then, voters didn’t get to see much of the candidates. So that debate was huge. But with the world of insane media saturation we live in now, voters can see all they want whenever they want. Sure, there are no doubt some undecideds who will tune in tonight, and no doubt some of them will have their views pushed or pulled one way or the other. But that’s a tiny sliver of a mostly decided electorate that already knows a great deal about both Obama and Romney.
Which is why, while there will be some policy discussed tonight, it’s really all about the theater — and about creating some memorable moments. Hence all the talk, both from the Romney campaign and in the media generally, about zingers, as silly as that is.
And so far… it’s not a bad debate, but it’s pretty dull theater. No memorable zingers so far. Whatever will the media do?