Last night I watched the first of the so-called debates between Romney and Obama.
I haven’t watched one of these live as it happens in years, not since I had to do it as an on-air analyst and host at 90.7fm Los Angeles for the debate shows between Kerry and Bush. (The interview with Daniel Ellsberg on this site was from just before one of those).
In 2008, I watched Ifill with McCain and Obama mostly in clips online using Youtube and the rest of the net. 2008 was the Youtube election. I still prefer my news of such events nowadays dissected so I don’t have to sit and watch. It’s considerably faster and easier to read everybody’s b.s. and then look at the relevant clips.
I wouldn’t have watched last night’s debate at all, except my son’s teacher asked his class to try to watch … so we sat down to do that.
First, let’s be clear about what they are: shows.
They are not debates, and haven’t been for at least a dozen years. I’ve grown tired of using the phrase “so-called debates” and actually have now even seen that term become so ubiquitous as to be without meaning.
So I called Rosencrantz to discuss how we ought to rightly rename what it is we are watching, which are Talk Shows, or Game Shows. The moderator is not a moderator. He’s an MC, or perhaps a game show host. I prefer the former, but Rosencrantz wanted to run with Game Show Host.
Last night’s game show was badly emceed.
The prizes in this Game Show are not just votes, but whole states.
Because of the electoral college, all either of these men have to do in these three shows is gain the respect of a simple majority of the voters in Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania to take the state.
The power of the media is the reproduction of these stage shows into opinion. Colorado may have swung hard toward Romney after last night, but it wasn’t because of the man himself.
It’s the din that builds the bump.
All the political commentators in US media, left and right determine the “winner” and “loser” of the show through a constant blather of opinion thinly disguised as critique, mostly funded by or produced by companies that fund one candidate or another or the President.
This product – this inane chatter of umpteen egoistic voices – is what will establish the opinion of the 51% or more in each of those swing states, far more than the actual Game Show itself or the man who challenges the President for his seat.
Incumbency is nearly outweighed by Obama’s blackness – and they dare call it post-racial.
The difference between the two men was clear. The challenger was bold and entitled in his approach, which neither the President nor the Game Show Host expected.
Then the lies began. But having established his presence and with time short, they were hard to expose. The President became intellectually defensive for the truth and resorted to wonkiness like we haven’t seen in debates for some time.
Michael Moore and Glenn Greenwald today both tweeted their concerns about Obama’s performance.
Because the din does the work and not the men in performance themselves, the replaying of dynamics between the men, the moderator and the camera will be doing the real debating. Hence the President’s approach.
Romney seized the space that was given to him to establish himself, the Game Show Host failed to moderate, and the President didn’t squash the challenger like a bug because he knew what that would look like to the world.
Facts, as usual, had very little to do with the challenger’s approach, and the lists of things he was going to do unsupported by facts will make for excellent Youtube clips.
Absent was Obama’s command of rhetoric. He looked like a man looking out from a personal space within himself. From making his most important point be his anniversary wish to his wife, to his wonky intellectual defensiveness, the President was not on top of this one.