One reason I like sports so much is because there is a clear-cut winner, and loser, at the end.
No matter if it’s a football, basketball or baseball game, the score is exhibited throughout the contest so everyone knows how the competitors stand all along the way. And afterward, we might not like the result, but there is tangible evidence (the final point totals) which is tied to that outcome.
I wish I could say the same for presidential debates. I have watched many of them over the years, but they all seem to end up the same way: a big argument over who actually won.
For you Shakespeare fans out there, one could say that we are faced with a debate within a debate.
Of course, since the first presidential debate Wednesday night, supporters of Barack Obama are all claiming he came out on top. And those of Mitt Romney believe their man was the victor (surprise, surprise on both counts).
I am convinced that short of killing babies onstage, nothing either candidate could say or do during a debate would sway their respective sides from that partisan viewpoint.
As it turned out, the dialogue during Wednesday night’s debate seemed to be just fodder for another one of those made-for-TV events we all have come to know and love.
It followed the usual slick format, with most of the remarks coming off as rehearsed — basically an occasion for candidates to unleash their respective collections of sound bites. These were familiar from their strings of political ads that have been running for months, it seems.
With Wednesday’s event coming off as more of a Hollywood production than a debate, it would have been nice to see the candidates deviate from the script and really get down and dirty. Or at least to have a final score.
The only thing I saw along those lines was a report by USA Today stating that Obama blinked 75 times per minute during the debate, compared to 55 for Romney. I’m sure GOP voters see this as some weakness on the part of the president, but maybe he just blinked more because of the bright TV lights.
Yet this is no way to judge a debate.
One thumbnail definition of a debate which I have come to embrace is that it should be an oral presentation of logical, clear, persuasive and well-supported arguments against others taking an opposing view. A good debater, therefore, is one who can offer his own positions and support them with facts, while riddling those of his opponent like Swiss cheese.
And while both Obama and Romney did some of that Wednesday night, there was no official tally of who refuted who the most times, etc., so the outcome was left up to the beholder. Totally subjective. Each side will now spent X-number of days waging its own debates regarding who it thinks the victor was — right up until the time the two candidates have their next hollow exchange.
What would be the harm in having presidential (and other political) debates conducted in a manner similar to those of scholastic debate teams? Non-partisan judges could award points based on factors including organization, style, content and persuasiveness.
If this works for school kids, why not for an event that is part of the process to select the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth?
Aside from the lack of a clear-cut outcome are the strange social graces associated with debates, which I suppose are another trait of their made-for-TV format. These were apparent both before and after Wednesday’s 90-minute encounter.
At the start of the debate, I expected both men to shake hands, not unlike two boxers touching gloves before they bash each other’s heads in, but Obama and Romney actually embraced for a lengthy period. Also, they whispered things in each other’s ear.
I found this troubling for some reason, though I really can’t articulate why.
Then at the end, the candidates had their family members on the stage, hugging and exchanging pleasantries. Again, this added to the made-for-TV atmosphere, but seemed kind of phony to me.
I mean, both Romney and Obama did manage to trade some barbs at times during the debate. And the last thing I would want to do is hug a guy who had just trashed me in front of a national television audience.
After watching the latest debate, an extremely funny Warner Brothers cartoon series came to mind, about two characters named Sam Sheepdog and Ralph E. Wolf. In their cartoons, both arrive at a sheep pasture each morning and punch the same time clock while exchanging pleasantries.
During their shift, Ralph E. Wolf tries desperately to make off with the sheep, but the dutiful sheepdog brutalizes the hapless predator all along the way.
When a whistle blows to end the work day, the two again show up at the time clock and greet each other with statements such as “so long, Ralph” and “see you tomorrow, Sam.”
I’m not saying that either Obama or Romney is a dog or wolf, but at least there was a winner in the cartoons.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.