Debating

When I was in the 8th grade, I participated in a debate. I was maybe 13 years old.  This was actually an assignment by our English teacher.  Pretty brilliant of her actually.  She was trying to teach the effective use of language. The previous year, we had already gone through grammar, and that was not her job.

So in that vein, we were unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) assigned our “sides”.  This meant you could be assigned to a “side” you didn’t believe in.  The idea was that you had to research your “side”, and present forceful and plausible arguments for it.

As I recall, our debate was about whether or not slavery was wrong.  I don’t even remember which side I was on.  I think I was on the “slavery is wrong” side, which would make it a lot easier to defend your position.  There wasn’t one person in our class who thought slavery was a good idea, but they/we still had to defend it passionately and articulately.  And that was the teacher’s  point.  If you say it well, you can convince anyone of anything.  Not only did we learn debating, but we learned history.  We had to re-fight the Civil War.

Whichever side I was on, I do at least remember that our team won.  Probably I was on the pro-slavery team, because the only thing I remember vividly is having to go to the bathroom and throw up right afterwards.  Maybe that was just nerves.

But this taught me a valuable and lifelong lesson:  you don’t have to actually believe in something to argue persuasively.

This brings me to the first Presidential debate of 2012.  One of the rules of debate is that you must at least include a modicum of accuracy.  (So, for example, you can argue that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about cotton, and trade. )

In this first Presidential debate, almost everyone agrees that Mitt Romney “won”, and that includes me.  Romney did an outstanding job…of debating.  The thing that disappointed me most is that the President was not nearly as aggressive as he is capable of being.  I wanted him to confront Romney on numerous occasions for his blatant lying.  But most of the time when Romncy was speaking, the President was looking down at the podium.  Sometimes you would see him with a little smile on his face, like, Isn’t this amusing?  Well, yes it is.  You should say so.  Out loud, instead of smirking to yourself.

But that is one of Obama’s legendary failings.  He comes across as, for lack of a better word, snooty.  Too intellectual for the hoi polloi.  He treated Romney as beneath his notice, as if he were an annoying flea that he would prefer not to deal with.  Yeah, me too, but that isn’t a good move in a debate.

It was only the next day that the President said, the guy who showed up last night, claiming to be Mitt Romney, is not the same guy we’ve been hearing from for the last 18 months.  Haven’t all been there?  The best comeback is always something you think of later.

Back to Mitt’s win in the debate, and the modicum of accuracy part.  You can argue how many angels will fit on the head of a pin (answer: either none or an infinite number, they don’t have mass.  Presumably.)  And you can argue a completely invalid point and still win a debate.

The loser of the night is really the moderator, Jim Lehrer.  He exercised no control whatsoever.  What is the point of having a moderator?  He might as well have left the stage to the candidates to just duke it out.  He was too overawed.  Gwen Ifill of CNN was far better.  “Your time is up!”.

Looking back, it’s possible that the President “won” after all.   Mitt Romney is a flea, and a lying flea at that.  I think more people got a chance to see it in action.

Regardless of the debate, Mitt Romney will never overcome his remarks about the 47%.  But he tried hard.  E for effort.

Lately I am actually trying to stay away from politics as a topic, if you can believe that.  That’s because I am on the verge of losing friends over it.  But this…I couldn’t resist.

I had to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks to finish watching this debate, but it was worth it.  So I will watch the rest of them too.  Next week is the vice-Presidential debate and I wouldn’t miss that for the world.  In one corner, Paul Ryan, the smart young whippersnapper Ayn Rand devotee.  In the other corner, Joe Biden, the older, experienced guy who cannot be underestimated.   As the T-shirt says, old age and treachery will always overcome youth and enthusiasm.  Note to self:  I gotta get one of those T-shirts.

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5 responses to “Debating

  1. Even after 4 years of OJT the incumbent president was totally outclassed for his job interview, and the media could not package this up and save his bungling and amateurish flop. The only pundit who said Obama won was Juan Williams and I don;t think he really thought it. You might enjoy (or not) John Stewart’s spiel on the Daily show.

    Before this debate I didn’t give Romney much of a chance, the media kills him for the White House and that’s almost impossible to overcome. Doesn’t really matter what he says, it gets panned by the media. The debate took that “filter” away from them and the two candidates appeared as they should. Anyone who still has an open mind should now pay attention to the next debates. I would ballpark that at about 4% of the voters. And as Kathleen Parker said “game on.”

    I too am looking forward to the VP debates. I have seen Ryan school the President on the budget and I have seen Biden. Should provide some memorable moments. (Like “they want to put ya’ll in chains”).

    By the way, imho the only thing wrong with Romney’s 47% gaffe was the actual number I’m sure its actually quite a bit lower once you take out those that do pay payroll taxes. But I know many of the victim mentality folks and they definitely won’t vote for him.

    I am more concerned with the situation in Libya and the outrageous misstatements made by the administration about terrorists killing Americans on 911. because of a video from an unidentified source. Even the NYT has started to pay attention to what they are now terming “paper over” retreats that Hillary and company are making from their initial politicization of the terror attacks. The Times stop short of calling it what it actually is (cover up). But clearly Obama’s administration wants to downplay the possibility that its policy is a mess and enabling terror. I anticipate that will emerge during the debate on foreign policy.

  2. I will stick to my “Arthritic Department” T-shirt. It’s so much fun when people actually READ it.

  3. I took debate class in high school. Which is why I have never watched any debates since then.

    Debates are about scoring “points” and not about trying to get to the heart of anything. Truth (in the form of the “whole picture”) is the last thing you (debaters) want in a debate. You want distortions, out of context “facts”, etc. Anything that supports your position. That is how you “win” a debate.

    One can “win” a debate and still be absolutely wrong. As part of that debate class, I made a compelling case for apartheid in South Africa. Got an A for it. And when you look at the “theory” of apartheid, it is quite logical. But the reality is a different story. It is still a pig in lipstick…, which is what both Romney and Obama are.

    But reality is not what debates are about; they are about perception, as most things are. If you can shape perception, reality is irrelevant.

    I find it… interesting… that PT refers to Romney’s 47% comment as a “gaffe” but uses “cover up” for Obama in Libya. That is his perception, reflecting his biases. Others will say that the “gaffe” shows Romney’s true feelings about a huge segment of the country and that the “cover up” was an honest mistake. Which is “real” and which is “perception” cannot be “proven.”

    We are all prisoners of our values. As Kant postulated in his “Critique of Pure Reason,” our view of “reality” is distorted, filters, etc. by the “manifolds of understanding.” If things were so straight forward, so factual, there would be no differences of opinion on anything consequential.

    None of us will ever see the whole elephant. Not you, not PT and not me. But we have to either move forward based on that part of the elephant we do see, or do nothing. More and more, I prefer the latter.

  4. Here in the UK we have a show on TV called ‘Argumental’. Where people have to take it in turns to make a case for or against a subject – rather like in your class, they don’t have a choice, they get assigned a subject and a side, and then the audience have to decide who gave the most convincing argument. It’s a light entertainment programme, so the people debating are usually comedians, or articulate celeb-types, and the subjects they get given are usually silly or frivolous, but it’s quite interesting to see that the side which “wins” the audience vote isn’t necessarily the most obviously correct side, it’s just who was better or more entertaining in presenting their case. And as you say, that’s what politics is often all about!

  5. I agree with all that debates are frequently less than meaningful., often more like a game to score points. This first Presidential debate has had what most insiders are calling an unprecedented impact on the 67 million viewers. Obama was so bad and Romney so good that the Dems are floundering and making (and subsequently pulling) an attack ad using big bird and sesame street. LOL.

    SC to be clear I am certainly biased against those who want my taxes, to exist without contributing to the general good, Absolutely! The only question I have is about their number. And as for not seeing the entire elephant in the room re Libya of course I don’t but I can see a cover up as it emerges. Check out Lara Logan’s speech in Chicago this week. She charges the Administration with wholesale lying to the American people about terrorism for political gain. I think she sees a lot of the elephant. And she certainly put her career at risk by blowing the whistle.

    http://www.policymic.com/articles/16154/lara-logan-60-minutes-reporter-openly-blasts-obama-for-being-soft-on-terrorism

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