I watched the first presidential debate with my good pal Judy and my husband Tim. I created a cheese tray with crackers, baby carrots and even Halloween candy for our mini-viewing party. We watched in virtual silence. Occasionally one of us would yell at the television (me) but mostly we just listened.
At the end of the debate I felt satisfied. President Barack Obama, my candidate, spoke very clearly and directly to the citizenry – often straight into camera – about how Obamacare works, his ideas about education, his reasoning behind a trickle up tax plan and even how the federal government has a positive role to play in the states. (Though he did himself no favors aligning himself with Mitt Romney on (gulp) Social Security).
I thought, His strategy worked! Just let Romney talk and talk and talk and talk until he wove enough falsehoods, awkwardness and condescension into a flaxen gold yarn to hang himself with. Magnificent!
So, when Judy and Tim both expressed grave concern over the POTUS’ performance, I was completely caught off guard – what? Then, when I tuned into the social networks – specifically Facebook – I was surprised when I saw my liberal pals virtually throwing themselves off a cliff over Obama’s horrific showing in their rapid-fire posts.
What debate did they watch? Good gravy – what debate did I watch?
I saw an Obama that had a lot on his mind. With Syria and Turkey coming to blows, perhaps he had a clandestine meeting with Seal Team Twelve later that evening at Mile High Stadium. And did you notice how quickly he and Michelle left the stage? Unless they had reservations at Applebee’s to celebrate their 20th anniversary – something seemed afoot.
I heard Mitt string together some powerful Right Wing dog whistles: food stamps! Solyndra! (and a passing nod at the bitter end to) Religious Liberty! I heard Mitt liken the President to his lying teenage sons; I heard Romney run over speed bump moderator Jim Lehrer, and, most of all, I heard absolutely no plan on anything at all from the perpetual Republican runner-up-in-chief.
And then – when I flipped on MSNBC – I was scared. All votes were in. Hayes, Maddow, Schultz (with the exception of Reverend Al) said the President blew it! Oh cripes! Am I really that stupid to have missed this obviously tragic performance?
We live in a society that thrives on political theater. We love watch our candidates land a monumental blow (sir, you are no Jack Kennedy) on the other. The celebrities that turn up to support our candidates, be it that guy from the 90’s band Creed switching his vote to Romney or Every Other Superstar behind Obama. The flashy correspondents dinners, the promises, and the bus tours –we don’t just expect our politicians to entertain us – we demand it.
The first Obama/Romney debate – as with all debates – was to serve as an educational tool; to give us a look at the candidates and what they stand for, their cadence and demeanor.
But our electorate is no better informed about anything after the first of three presidential debates. (I admit to learning one thing – that China funds Big Bird). Although the political right may be breaking its arm to pat itself on the back for a Romney triumph, give it a few days – that will fade. Romney said nothing – I mean nothing – of substance. Thoughtful conservatives will begin to point out that he still hasn’t articulated a plan and the bump will be over.
Obama admittedly must perform much better in the next go round. He is going to have to merge his cool exterior with his sharp Osama bin Laden-killing interior to dazzle his crowd. But that’s just it – it will be a performance – by both Obama and Romney. After focus groups have their say, the candidates’ approaches will be retooled and honed. Then, Jo Biden will rip into Paul Ryan at the next debate, teeing up Obama for the kill.
Until then (as with the previous 20 months) we will have to live through cable news pundit heydays and an onslaught of political ads and chain-emails from our conservative relatives. Then, the day after the November elections, those mid-termers will fire up their campaigns (2014!) and we’ll be at it once again.
Guest contributor Andy Kopsa is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Ms. Blog, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check and The American Independent. She is a native Iowan and former Iowa newspaper editor. She blogs at Off The Record and you can find her on Twitter @andykopsa.
Image via DonkeyHotey Flickr Stream per Creative Commons license