Political Perspective: Debate relevance is questioned

Ask any political pundit and he or she will probably tell you that Mitt Romney ran away with the first of the three presidential debates on Oct. 3. While this opinion could be broadly attributed to most who watched President Obama’s “uninspiring, listless” performance, as described in Commentary Magazine, anyone but the keenest observer would say it matters.
The political ideologues who help determine the country’s next president would have already made up the majority of their collective minds by the time the vice presidential debate aired live on Thursday night. The fact that 6 percent of Colorado voters is undecided will play little or no factor in how the state will vote in November. So why, then, is it important to watch? Because you’re watching history.
This type of history, however, is not the raw, unedited history that we watch with the comfort of hindsight on the History Channel. This is the flashy record of the present, where even the little things seem to matter. When the public watches a debate on prime-time national television, it is not to see objectively the problems facing the nation in two political spectrums of light, but oftentimes it is the first and only impression many Americans will make of each candidate. What the candidates did on Oct. 3 may shift a few shoddy votes but more importantly, it will establish the public image of the candidates from now until Election Day.
What these debates are in actuality is a candid conversation between candidates that offers an insight if not the truth, behind the campaigns of two of the free world’s most influential people. Whereas in the days of old, the candidates allowed for separate interviews simultaneously broadcasted to the American public, the new debate format is designed to better allow candidates to interact with each other, as they often took advantage of last week. Most viewers would appreciate the new style to better grasp the starkly contrasting personalities of the candidates in a debate, in which most of the substance could be arbitrary to the general public (unless the average citizen could accurately apply significance to the terms “Simpson-Bowles” and “Dodd-Frank,”). It would then be plausible to attribute Obama’s lack of debate success to the physical presentation of his argument.
While the president’s nonverbal interactions won’t win him any congeniality pageant crowns, it won’t seriously affect his campaign for re-election. Sure, you could say Romney beat the president off the ball during the first segment, but political opinions shouldn’t be conceived overnight; they take cultivation to produce adequately. What Mitt Romney accomplished on Oct. 3 was a sign of good faith to his supporters — those Americans who would follow this potential president to hell and back regardlessly. He showed them that his campaign has life, that he is now a more viable presidential candidate than ever before and that he could run this country. But what he also displayed is that he is the same businessman that would uninspiringly and listlessly cut billions to publicly-funded works and services (does anyone have a good Big Bird joke?).
So as the big question comes nearer to being answered on Nov. 5, it should not read: Are you better off now than four years ago? But rather: Has Mitt Romney changed since four years ago?

-Benjamin Smith
Senior journalism major

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