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.