Beyond binders and blinders
Issues once again an afterthought in second debate
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Everyone likes a good show, and everybody was waiting for one from President Obama on Tuesday night. With the spotlight and attention on him, he came out (almost literally) swinging at Mitt Romney after a weak previous debate.
Viewers saw candidates live up to their expectations and put on an entertaining performance perfect for any variety hour but otherwise got more of the same: unanswered questions, broad answers and a whole lot of needless bickering.
Immediately following the Hofstra University debate, 37 percent of undecided voters polled by CBS News thought the president won, 30 percent believed Romney was the victor and 33 percent called it a tie. Those same voters still think Romney would handle the economy better (65-34) and Obama would be more likely to handle the middle class (56-43).
It’s hard to believe people are making any kind of decision like this, though. Despite the numbers, the talk of every debate has been about the delivery. How is Romney going to match Obama’s style? How is Biden going to make up for the president’s unexpected loss? Can Obama come back and be more aggressive? The issues have been an afterthought each and every time.
And while the candidates fought back vigilantly against media criticism and talked much more in the hour and a half, they didn’t say much. Some questions that were asked covered such a broad range of issues they couldn’t be answered properly in a research paper, let alone in two minutes (or supposed two minutes because Obama had five minutes more speaking time than Romney). More were left unanswered and replaced by vague rhetoric.
There was nothing more than shine and sparkle. On moments that candidates could have really attacked the other on being contradictory or weak (e.g. foreign policy and job creation), they failed at coming back with hard, concrete facts. The only thing Obama and Romney proved was they could both talk very loudly and at the same time as the other candidate.
Overall, the debate had nothing more than the first one did or the vice presidential debate did. It spurred Internet memes with Romney’s “binders full of women” comment, led to days worth of discussion over who won and, most importantly, left voters just as confused as they were before.
Call it a tie or a draw, but nobody really walked away with a win in this one – especially the voters. As Romney and Obama were sometimes noticeably thrown off by questions and retorts on Tuesday night, the voters were thrown off by the evening even more, not sure where to turn their allegiance. No, nothing was really discussed or expanded on … but at least it was good television, right?
Voters need to get as excited about the issues as they do about the style. What audiences saw in the second debate was childish aggressiveness – finger pointing, numerous interruptions and a copious amount of pouting on both sides. We need to hear more from people like Jeremy Epstein, a 20-year-old college student, who is worried he won’t be able to support himself after he graduates. But we also need to hear more concrete answers on the matters – especially on a topic so near and dear to us – than the president’s desire to build manufacturing jobs and control our own energy.
We may not be able to listen to every word, but we should at least try instead of being sucked into the bottomless pit of politics. The chirpy and brazen style of the second debate – from the candidates and moderator alike – only goes so far in the voting booth. Whether or not the third and final debate is any different, we need to ask more questions and seek out our own answers if they’re not given to us because at this point it doesn’t look like the candidates are ever going to answer.