Editorial | Theater over policy once again in second debate
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 08:10
By now, both President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney have honed their message on the election’s pressing issues down to a science. The rest of the campaign will not likely offer any more specific plans in either candidate’s stump speeches.
It will, however, offer an infinite number of opportunities for gaffes and misspeaking.
From this point forward, there will likely be no surprises in the candidates’ policy views. What the outcome of the debate season hinges on instead is a complicated dance that has elements of theatre and appearance.
The much−anticipated sequel to the first debate, in which Obama looked tepid at times compared to a stern Romney, did not disappoint as a theatrical spectacle.
The candidates began lobbing attacks at each other right from the get−go at the showdown at Hofstra University in New York.
The Twittersphere lit up immediately, and avid fact−checkers had a lot of work to do, as both men challenged each other’s claims at every opportunity.
The candidates offered their campaign pitches in a town hall setting. Issues discussed included solutions for the federal deficit and student debt and policy on gun control and immigration. On these topics, Obama and Romney predominantly reiterated points from earlier in the campaign.
Yet the most memorable moment of the debate had little to do with policy. When Romney challenged Obama’s claim to have dubbed the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the U.S Ambassador to Libya, an “act of terror” within 24 hours, moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to correct the challenger and confirm that Obama was correct.
Romney had said, “I just want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack ... an act of terror,” a claim that is false, although two weeks after the incident much more about the terrorist nature of the attack was known.
Romney appeared off−kilter, and Obama came off as a confident commander−in−chief by being declared correct by the moderator on a dispute far less important in the grand scheme of things than other issues presented in this debate, like the goverment’s role in healthcare and the strength of the economy.
The lack of new information on issues unearthed during this debate season has placed the onus squarely on theatrics like these as the decisive factor. CNN/ORC International reported poll results from immediately after the debate that said that 46 percent of viewers believed that Obama won and 39 percent had Romney as the winner.
These poll results likely reflect how Obama had fewer theatrical slip−ups than Romney, more so than they are a reflection of the candidates’ views on policy.
In the first debate, Romney appeared energized, together and able, while the president did not offer as concise and passionate answers. Last night, both candidates spoke cogently and with passion, making a clear winner more difficult to call. In one key moment, however, Obama stood tall while Romney looked foolish in a theatrical moment that will dominate today’s headlines.