I appreciate Alec MacGillis of The New Republic going on a modest rant this a.m. against the overimportance attached to tonight’s debate or the debates in general.
Of course, keeping things in perspective is soooo 20th century, or do I mean 19th century. In the 19th century, we had no TV, so we couldn’t turn everything into a TV show or, in the case of presidential debates, an episode of the Gong Show. In the 20th century, we got TV, and we discovered that everything was about “optics.” But fairly deep into the 20th, we still carved out a little dare-to-be-boring zone for news and politics. (Well, that’s an overstatement. We’ve been electing mostly tall, nice-looking men with deep voices as president for quite a while. And victory in the very first televised presidential debate was determined by a bad makeup job.)
Now, we make less and less pretense that we are choosing our presidents (or the tiny cadre of undecided voters in key swing states are choosing our presidents) based on anything other than whether we like them on TV. As MacGillis puts it:
It’s nuts that through some combination of media obsession and voter behavior (good luck distinguishing between those two — it’s the ultimate chicken and the egg conundrum) we’ve found ourselves in a situation where we believe the election of the next president, a process we’ve been engaged in for the better part of the past year, resides to a great degree on what happens over the course of a few remaining hours of television. We’ve watched the candidates through countless speeches and interviews and interactions with voters; we’ve reckoned with their records, in the Senate and White House and in Boston’s gold-domed state capital and gold-lined Bain Capital; we’ve weighed their proposals. And after all that, we are going to decide who has taken command for the home stretch based on who strikes just the right tone in an event that will be over faster than your average high school basketball game.
As MacGillis also emphasizes, President Obama has exercised the powers of the presidency for four years, with plenty of ups and downs, accomplishments and failures. And yes, the question of which were accomplishments and which were failures is something that can argued about substantively.
But forget all that [MacGillis continues]. It’s all riding on whether he can find that one Clintonesque moment with an unemployed accountant in the town-hall audience, or deliver that one stinging rebuke that encapsulates all that is wrong about Romney Version 7.0 and leaves him ”bliterated” on the debate floor.