It is easy to point out the slight Greek tragedy of a moderating attempt that Jim Lehrer made during Wednesday night’s debate in Colorado between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Jim Lehrer, noted for his work on PBS NewsHour, is a nice man who has had a tremendous and effectual career. That said, it was irresponsible and foolish of him to allow such a belligerent treatment of his moderating authority during the debate. It was also irresponsible of the candidates to walk all over him.
The scene could have caused a mako shark serious dry-eyed, unblinking frustration. Lehrer was continually flattened under the two candidates’ hooves, and not once set either candidate in their place. At times, it felt like the only order in that room was thinly veiled pompous belligerence from both Obama and Romney disguised as polite debate through shining cracked-glass grins.
Again, Lehrer is a good man who many should aspire to do half as much as in their lives, but he may as well have simply raised his hand and said “I’m here” every ten minutes. The night was a massive discovery of varicose veins full of stalled blood covering Uncle Sam’s legs. But we can learn from it.
Occasionally a political habit suffers such a blatant shaming that even the barely political will recognize exactly what the problem is. We read in polls, in newspapers, hear on television and watch on the internet that these polls are essentially meaningless because voters have most likely made their decision. And unless Obama and Romney suddenly draw weapons and have a Burr/Hamilton-style illegal dueling match, the debates won’t show us enough about the candidates to change massive groups of voters’ opinions.
The debates would be useful if the moderator held the candidates to an answer, and hounded them to stay on topic. We would learn more that way, and get more for our tax money in the process. A few simple changes might allow the candidates to offer better answers. For instance, if the debates were treated less like a race to an idiotically simple-minded blabber-fest and the candidates were allowed a minute or two of downtime to formulate responses, we might actually hear well-thought-out arguments. One can only hope.
The debates would be useful if the moderator held the candidates to an answer, and hounded them to stay on topic. We would learn more that way, and get more for our tax money in the process.
It would also be useful to remove distractions such as the Twitter feeds and graphics. I have little against Twitter, and recognize its usefulness, but onscreen widgets like a Twitter feed distract people from what the candidates are saying. Though, I do see some use in having a running commentary, but only if the commentators are professionals.
On Wednesday, the Twitter feed that ABC ran on their website, and likely on their TV station (I don’t have television so I can’t be sure), and which assumedly was screened before being put onscreen, had very few moments of analysis or logical commentary. If we’re going to have intelligent debate and conversation about the potential people who will run our country, ABC and other networks need to rethink how the debates are shown.
A lot of the Tweets were satirical, or sarcastic, and many of the Tweets simply stated allegiances to Obama or Romney declaring rather idiotically that one or the other was a “winner”. To touch on that last point first: no one won that debate. The two debaters, Jim Lehrer, and every person watching, lost. It was a shitty debate that kept spinning its tires and repeated itself to an asinine extent.
The only interesting moment (and they were not that interesting) occurred in the Twitter feed while Romney brought up the tired argument that Obama will “gut” $716 billion from Medicare (in reality: the plan is to reduce future spending by $716 billion, and both Ryan’s and Romney’s plans have the same provision). During this time Twitter flooded with criticism of Jim Lehrer, the debate itself, and completely absurd comments having little to do with politics at all. My favorite of which was a person gloating that they were watching Paranormal Activity at the same time.
We were not given a debate. Both candidates treated Lehrer with incredibly subtle disrespect, and the Twitter feed likely both got people to interact with the debate, and then distracted them from it.
Much of the failure was Lehrer’s fault. I do not want to dogpile the man, because he really didn’t do anything that bad to deserve such lengthy ridicule, but one thing to learn from this event is that the debate’s have shown their ridiculous colors, and there is a lot to be changed.
But rest assured: nobody won.