Are The Debates Even Relevant?

| October 4, 2012 | Reply

Okay, I confess, I did not watch the debate between Obama and Romney.  In my opinion, it doesn’t count for much.  I’ve been listening to both sides now since last spring and I’ve made my decision, so exactly what good would listening to the debate do me?  Or for a committed Romney supporter, for that matter?  None to speak of.

So, observation number one:  I’ve never known anyone who changed their vote because of something in the debates.

That doesn’t mean people haven’t, it’s just that, in the 40 + years I’ve been paying attention, I’ve never met anyone who changed positions because of anything said during one of these.  In my opinion, these are just 90 minute infomercials, a restating of positions, and a jockeying for Gotcha Points.  They will doubtless be relevant to historians at some future date.

Listening to the reactions today, however, has been both entertaining and enlightening.

For instance, one conservative (self-identified) commentator I heard said that “Well, the fact checkers were on Obama’s side even if the facts weren’t.”

Hmm.  This is close thinking?  Even grading on the curve, a lie is a lie, a misstatement a misstatement, a misrepresentation just as misleading, and there are a number of fact checking organizations today that do a very good job at tracking this stuff.

For instance, here’s one that tracked Romney’s misleading statements.  The worst of the bunch was his continued claim that he hasn’t proposed a five trillion dollar tax cut.  The numbers do not support him.

Also, there’s a bit of fast-talking sleight-of-hand even in what he said.  He claimed he intends to provide a 20% tax cut across the board.  Then he claimed that his number one principle is “no tax cut that adds to the deficit.”  Five trillion or not, those two things are utterly incompatible.  Right now, any tax cut will add to the deficit.  People who think he did well because he presented well may have missed that.

(I know, I know, this is more of that trickle-down nonsense, that if people have more of “their own money” the economy will grow.  it still doesn’t address the people who have no money or the fact that people who have a great deal are not redistributing it effectively in this country.)

But even this is beside the point.  If you’re a Romney supporter going into last night, likely you still are.

Observation two:  Hardly anyone remembers the first debate.  Those wondering why Obama didn’t unload on Romney (there’s plenty there in his ammunition box) should just be patient.  Why give the opposition anything to fuel new ads with?  Obama laid back, played a bit of rope-a-dope, and (my prediction) will lay into Romney in the last debate.  Meanwhile, he just has to stick to his record.

But in any case, people remember the last debate, which is the one that provides the final snapshot they will all take with them into the voting booth.  So to say Obama blew it is missing the point.

Observation three:  Rarely are these things actual debates.  You want a debate, you sit the candidates down in a room with a camera and microphone, allot them three hours, and let them go at it.  These formalized Q & A sessions give both candidates too much wiggle room to simply campaign a little more.  It’s not an honest debate.  It’s an airing of positions and demonstration of how well each can duck hard questions or zing the other with a punchy one-liner.

(The next one is supposed to be a town hall format, which might yield some more relevant and honest responses, but even these are so heavily vetted that I don’t expect any surprise questions that flatfoot both of the candidates.)

Observation four:  If people think they can “catch up” with all this by tuning in the debates, they’re wrong.  You don’t even keep abreast by watching the ads or listening to stump speeches.  You have to read, you have to look things up, you have to pay attention to what the Parties are doing.  And if anyone believes they have caught up by watching the debates, well…

One small ancillary observation.  A critic this morning pointed out that Romney kept accusing Obama of “wasting” 90 billion dollars on alternative energy programs, an accusation Obama simply refused to answer.  The conclusion of one pundit was that he couldn’t, because it’s true.

Two things.  Research costs money.  This is why private firms are continually cutting their R & D departments, because they are seen as sinkholes that add nothing to dividends.  (They are also doing it because they have more and more relied on government to pay for basic research.  When the government signs a contract with a big firm for a new whattayacallit that requires development, the company doesn’t pay those costs, the government does, and more and more the government funds basic R & D at all levels.  No one seems to know this.)  Investment in research and development, however, is absolutely crucial and the funding that has supposedly been “wasted” has paid to advance basic knowledge, keep teams of scientists and engineers afloat, preserve a basic substrate of intellectual reserve that without such funding would be lost.  The “waste” is a misnomer because it assumes that the end result, the goal, is profit.  This is a serious mistake.

But the other thing is that when the government pumps money into things like this, they are pumping money into our economy.  Waste?  Ninety billion dollars just got reinvested within our borders.  Out of that paychecks were made, communities kept together a bit better, dollars were distributed to Americans.

None of which matters to people who think that if your dividends don’t go up next quarter then the project is a failure.

Which seems to be the approach a lot of people take toward government in general.  If it’s not making a profit (however you might determine that) then it should be gotten rid of.  I suppose that’s why we so often see people put forward who have “business experience” as if that would help them do the job of governing the country.  Bush had “business experience” and look how well he did.  I don’t suggest there is a causal link to this, but it seems that some of our better presidents have been failures in private business.  Many in the 19th Century seemed unable to manage their own money well at all.  What I do suggest is that there is another factor, a different quality, that needs to be present for an effective president.  Maybe in that sense, the debates may have some use—in showing us that elusive whatever-it-is right in the open.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Community, Culture, Current Events, History, Media, Noteworthy, Politics, Propaganda, Spending priorities

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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