The Second Presidential Candidate Debate

by Dave Schuler on October 17, 2012

Yesterday afternoon I heard an interesting feature on the radio. In the interview with the Hofstra University individual for selecting the audience for last night’s “town hall” format presidential candidate debate, the individual (I missed his name) persistently referred to them as “uncommitted voters” rather than “undecided voters”. According to him they were preponderantly individuals who had voted for Obama in 2008 but hadn’t made their minds up whether to vote for him again or not. The process that, apparently, was used in the debate was that, first, the participants were selected. Then Candy Crowley and her editors interviewed the participants to determine the questions they might ask. Finally, Candy Crowley and her editors pre-selected the participants and their questions.

That’s a good illustration of why I’ve called the town hall format “contrived”. Make me the moderator and I could produce any outcome I cared to and make it look fair while I was doing it.

BTW, based on the commentary of the debate I’ve read I’ve got a great idea for a new, revised presidential candidate debate schedule that will be more exciting and interesting than anything we’ve seen so far. Three debates. In the first debate the moderator should side with one candidate and advocate for that candidate, in the second the moderator should side with the other candidate and advocate for him or her. In the third debate, Perfect Paul can ask each question and let the two candidates go after each other for 15 minutes per question.

As well as I can determine those who support Obama believe that he won a solid victory last night while anyone who doesn’t particularly support Obama thought it was a draw. Randomly selecting an Obama supporter, let’s go to Jonathan Capeheart:

Obama hit Romney on his economic plans, immigration stance, women’s health and equal pay. They sparred over energy policy. And when it came to Libya, Romney got clobbered. It’s not that there aren’t serious and real questions that must be answered by Obama and his administration. It’s that Romney is a flawed vessel to have that conversation due to his unstatesmanlike press release amid the swirl of events that saw four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, murdered.

There were a few other uncomfortable moments for Romney. For instance, he didn’t directly answer a young woman’s question about equal pay for equal work for women. And the question asked of Romney about how he would be different from President George W. Bush was not a shining moment.

But the “amen” moment for Obama’s base came at the very end. In answering a question asking about a misperception of him, Romney answered by saying he cared about “100 percent” of the country. A clear reference to the damaging video that showed an unguarded Romney trashing 47 percent of the country as freeloaders. Obama didn’t let that go when he got the chance to answer the question. After saying he believes that Romney is a good man, the president pounced…

For the other point of view, how about the editors of the Wall Street Journal?

No doubt much of the media attention will focus on the exchange over Benghazi, which we agree was Mr. Romney’s weakest moment. He let the President get away with some scripted high dudgeon over politicizing the attack, without pointing clearly to the State Department testimony that a request for more security was denied.

We should point out, however, that he was more right than wrong about Mr. Obama’s remarks the day after the attacks. Mr. Obama used the words “acts of terror” only at the end of his remarks that day and in passing, and well after he had made an indirect and defensive reference to the anti-Islamic video. Moderator Candy Crowley was wrong to put her thumb on the scales for Mr. Obama in this exchange.

Based on what I’ve heard it seems to me that James Joyner gets it about right: the president stopped the bleeding while Romney continued to hold his own:

In terms of substance, those of us who’ve been paying attention for a while didn’t learn anything new. But we seldom do. Both candidates scrupulously followed Rule 1 of these debates: answer the question you want to answer, regardless of what was actually asked. Obama did it a bit more fluidly than Romney but neither went too far astray.

[…]

Overall, even if the debate is a draw, it’s a minor win for Obama simply because it stops the bleeding from Round 1. I don’t imagine it’ll result in much of a bounce in the polls, though.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw October 17, 2012 at 8:54 am

I didn’t watch the debate, so have no substantive comment. The debate “rules” interest me though, and Slate has a humorously serious listing of the violations. It answers one of my questions, “why don’t the candidates ask the questions of each other?” Answer: It would violate the rules they’ve decided to act under.

Also, a number of the rules issues pertain directly or indirectly to time. The debates should set up a light panel (similar to appellate courts), with green, yellow and red lights to show when time is up or about to expire. Five second after the red light comes on the mikes should go dead.

PD Shaw October 17, 2012 at 8:57 am

I probably just assume watch the final debate. The topics announced:

“The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism”
“Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan”
“Red Lines – Israel and Iran”
“The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World”
“America’s Role in the World”

I think I rode a few of these rides at Epcot Center last year.

Dave Schuler October 17, 2012 at 8:59 am

Five second after the red light comes on the mikes should go dead.

I think that each candidate’s mike should go dead when it’s his opponent’s turn to speak.

Steve Verdon October 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I think that each candidate’s mike should go dead when it’s his opponent’s turn to speak.

Ideally, their microphones would never be turned on.

Seriously, these things are heavily scripted and stupid. It just gives various people something the talk about that will have no meaningful or last impact on the real world. The debates were the first “reality TV” show. Something for the people to be mesmerized and distracted by.

PD Shaw October 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I might also consider prohibiting the split screens if the candidates don’t know how to properly use it. (A single shot is kind of boring; and I don’t mind the “listening” candidate making a few respectful signs of disagreement, but as the exception, not the rule)

I think a political debate should ideally be fairly close to a series of speeches, with some carry-over effect between the candidates, including questions. I don’t think they should be organized around the notion of a search for “truth” because in politics, the candidates and the parties and their partisans, don’t agree on what the issues are. In a sense, we should expect a good part of the debate to be about what the issues are.

Icepick October 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Make me the moderator and I could produce any outcome I cared to and make it look fair while I was doing it.

There ain’t no way … noooo WAY … { / Sheriff Buford T. Justice } people from all sides wouldn’t complain about the bias shown.

Icepick October 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Ideally, their microphones would never be turned on.

Beat me to it.

I think a political debate should ideally be fairly close to a series of speeches, with some carry-over effect between the candidates, including questions.

Ideally I think it should look more like the gladiator-style fight in Escape from New York.

Icepick October 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm

It’s that Romney is a flawed vessel to have that conversation due to his unstatesmanlike press release amid the swirl of events that saw four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, murdered.

Hmm, failed press release versus dead Ambassador (and others) and several weeks of being unable to find its ass with both hands – and the advantage of already having its head located inside said ass. Yeah, failed vessel indeed.

steve October 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Failed press release. Yup, that is how we should judge our presidents.

Steve

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