Saturday, October 6, 2012

Who won the first Romney/Obama debate? Not you... Was this Obama's rope-a-dope?

Obama almost roped-a-dope
Mitt Romney won the debate.

This is wrong on several levels, none of which is liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

What the challenger won was praise from those who chattered about the debate on television or wrote about it in print. Winning their approval may have some short term effect on people who pay attention to the media.

Allow me to deconstruct this idea.

Nobody actually wins a debate on substance because no one evaluates a debate on substance. Debates are evaluated on how the candidates appear. Are they confident in their facts? Do they seem to be in control? Are they aggressive? Are they combative? Do they seem to have the killer instinct? Do they appear presidential?

Certainly you’ve just recognized the majority of the reporting about this presidential debate. Yet nothing in those questions is particular to Romney / Obama. In a world dominated by entertainment, entertainment values are how a debate is judged.

Ask yourself what you know now -- that you didn't know before -- about the policies these men will follow in the presidency.

I rest my case.

Now, since we know 'won' mean’s 'performed better,' we need to ask performance questions. Why was Obama panned by the critics in the media? Because, simply put, he was too cool.

To argue against cool, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of television. In television, cool wins. There is a reason Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck – or, if your memory is long, Joe Pine – are not on primetime television.

If you want to understand how to use a medium, you first have to understand where people partake of it. What people will tolerate coming through the radio speakers in their cars during their commute is a lot different from what they will tolerate in their living rooms.

Here’s an illustration. Your preacher may be all fire and brimstone from the pulpit on Sunday morning. But if you invite him home to Sunday dinner and after he reaches for another piece of fried chicken he goes fire and brimstone on you, pounding his fist on the table and shouting to the rafters about sin and damnation, well, that’s the last fried chicken he’ll get at your house.

When we watch a debate from the couch in our living room, we invite these people to sit on the rug in front of us and argue nicely. If they go fire and brimstone, they will not be invited back. Let me say it again: On television, cool always wins.

What President Obama had in mind was a sort of theatrical rope-a-dope, and it almost worked. He hung out cool on the ropes hoping Governor Romney would start throwing haymakers. Romney almost took the bait, but pulled back just in time. I’d call the fight a draw. When Steve Kraske said the same thing in the Kansas City Star, a storm of abuse nearly blew down the telephone lines at 18th and Grand.

Which is the final point. For Obama supporters, the debate was – at worst -- a draw. For Romney supporters, Romney won big, and -- if you read the Public Editor's column in the Star, you know they were enraged that the Lamestream media didn't recognize such. For those with minds made up, nothing changed. The question is not who won. It’s who managed to move the few people who aren’t already inoculated against anything that challenges their man. And those two or three percent of potential voters were either watching the Yankees demolish Boston or asleep. They won’t tune in, if at all, until much later in the campaign.

So, who won the first debate and who lost? Nobody won… and anybody who wanted to know what the candidates will do in office definitely lost.


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