Of Donkeys and Elephants: Boozers, Losers, and Shmoozers

“Oh man, Romney is contradicting one of his past statements again. Time for another shot!” The drinking game. What a great way to add some intrigue to an otherwise pretty boring event. From CNN’s coverage of funny tweets on the presidential debate, Phil Plait tweeted: “After reading all the variations of debate drinking games, I have decided to simply remove my liver and set it on fire.” Got to love this. Take a lackluster argument between two partisan politicians, add some clever rules and alcohol, and you have got yourself a fun night. Really, you cannot blame people for having difficulty taking the debate seriously. A debate that should be a contest of logically constructed arguments is hyped into an entertainment showdown not unlike a sporting event. And again, you cannot blame the media for framing the debate this way, because American culture obsesses over sports and entertainment. Two parties’ age-old, often-revisited disputes are not incredibly appealing unless you add some sports matchup pizzazz. The result is an event where people are more concerned with the potential of a “gaffe” or crucial error than the actual content of the arguments. Regardless of what the presidential debate has become culturally, Romney came away the “official” victor from round one. The various networks’ post-game wrap up teams were surprisingly unanimous that Romney had the edge, and certainly the polls show it as well.

Still, I was attracted to how Obama “lost” this debate. Obama took the high road, he didn’t view the debate as a boxing ring where he ducks and dives and eventually lands the knockout punch. His big “knockout punches” stayed comfortably in his back pocket. He did not mention the “47 percent movie” that villainizes Romney to almost half of America, he didn’t “zing” Romney for wanting to kill Big Bird, he did not even call out Romney on fact usage issues. Already, Obama is more likeable than Romney as he is the President, a minority, a Christian, and has a middle class upbringing. The debate proved Obama to also be a gentleman--at least more of a gentleman than Romney.

Romney was prepared for Wednesday’s debate, he was poised and agile, like a vulture prowling for a chance to swoop in and tear some flesh. He was determined to make it his debate, not allowing some “moderator” get in the way of his rehearsed comments. On multiple occasions, he ignored Jim Lehrer’s attempts at moderation so he could fly in and take shots at his opponent. He was energetic, pointed, and cutting, saying things like: “Mr. President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.”

Obama on the other hand was almost annoyed in a weary sort of way. Romney’s commentary was met by Obama’s not well-hidden grimace of disappointment. It was like a young puppy circling around an older dog trying to rile him up to play. Romney, as the young pup, circled, jumped, nipped, and yapped while Obama was patient, fending off his annoyance.

Romney was impressive, but in more of an immature puppyish kind of way. America expects some good verbal sparring from these debates, and it was Romney who answered the call. Obama, on the other hand, remained faithful, patient—likeable.

I do not think Obama will be drastically hurt by his performance. Romney still did not give details to answer the nagging questions about how he plans to cut taxes, yet also immediately decrease the deficit. Romney did not attempt to explain his condescending attitude displayed in the “47 percent video.” Romney schmoozed around some facts, misusing information to paint a more negative picture of Obama’s presidency. These factors, unsolved by the debate, will continue to keep Romney’s polling numbers at bay.

Romney showed off his verbal sparring skills and definitely scored some points last Wednesday night. But people will eventually realize that this is a political race, not a sporting matchup. Once the boxing thrill is over, I think Americans will still vote for the guy they can like, not the guy who can throw a nice left hook.

BY NEIL WITZIG witzi013@d.umn.edu

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