Why the Debates Mattered This Time

Finally, a series of presidential debates that extended beyond campaign slogans and cheesy commercials. This year we witnessed true ideological differences between the incumbent and his challenger, solidifying the decision for their electorate. Ultimately,

The philosophical choice Americans have between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama couldn’t be clearer.

Seriously. There was genuine clash between the candidates, not political posturing or dodging of questions. Both sides dug into the other side without hesitation, framing their positions firmly against the other. And both campaigns articulated (or failed to articulate) their worldviews. Allow me to elaborate on these reasons these debates mattered so much and will help the electorate make their final decision for the presidency.

1. There was clash.

In academic debate, “clash” is a popular term. Questions need to be answered; debaters need to address the opposition. When the candidates simply restate what their campaign positions are, they’re like two ships passing in the night. Fire away, guys! Don’t waste the viewers’ time restating what your campaign ads already say. Go at it.

Last night’s debate was perhaps the most boring. Why? Because of lack of clash. Mitt Romney largely agreed with Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Because of this, Obama looked awkward attacking Mitt Romney. “Attacking me isn’t a policy” was a zinger that rang at the end of the evening. That said, there wasn’t much clash. Therefore, it was sort of a snoozer.

Compare that with the other three debates (Biden/Ryan included). Whew! There was little time wasted and the candidates went after each other quite aggressively. I like clash where clash needs to happen, and I believe this year it needed to happen.

2. There was drama.

So much is on the line for both candidates that the anxiety was felt. I literally was on the edge of my seat several times over the four weeks of debating, and I looked forward to every single week like a sporting event. It was awesome. Consider:

  • Debate #1: So much was on the line for Romney, so much overconfidence for Obama. The latter got clocked and changed the projections totally for the election. The game was on.
  • Debate #2 (the VPs): Biden was sent in to save his boss from failure, and he came across as a joker. Ryan shined as a winner, and the polls leaned heavily his direction.
  • Debate #3: Obama came back swinging, even having a tit-for-tat script with moderator Candy Crowley. It was low, and those who were watching closely saw it. It was like a biased call from a ref.
  • Debate #4: Only the Obama campaign is ignoring the polls. Obama needed to keep swinging, but this time appearing agitated and worried. Romney stumbled and conceded much, but that didn’t necessarily make him look foolish.
Politics is an American sport. The rivals duked it out and kept their fans energized. The media spin was dizzying. It was dramatic, and I argue thatthat was good.

3. There was articulation.

I appreciated the reiteration throughout the debates that there are two philosophical differences between the candidates. Presidential debates often get too rooted in policy and fail to highlight the philosophical. Why did I appreciate this? Because there are philosophical differences between these candidates. Perhaps greater differences than ever before. Obama’s a liberal and leans strongly toward social reforms that grow government; Romney is a conservative businessman and governor who leans toward shrinking government and a liberated middle class. Now that the debating is over, the outcome is clear:

Americans have a clear choice between continuing the policies of the past four years, or changing direction to a Romney/Ryan vision for the future.

So, I’d argue that the mission of the debates was accomplished. We Americans get to deal with the outcomes. Fairly and honestly, the debates exposed the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates. We get to think through and decide.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them below.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • JDK

    Are you saying that Romney/Ryan won all four debates, and Obama did nothing good? I don’t think that is an objective analysis.

    • One pundit summed it up nicely: Obama won the battle, Romney won the war.

      • JDK

        Actually, most pundits are saying Obama won this debate. Not sure why anyone would say Romney did, unless they were biased and unobjective, which are not good things to be.

  • Michelle Robinson

    Ha. I liked how Romney pointed out that his state was first in the country in English AND in math in fourth and eighth grade!! Sorry Pres. Obama, I think he beat you right there!

    • You’re right. That was strong. And I liked how Romney was proud of it.

    • margie

      “Romney boasts of Massachusetts as No. 1 in education, but that happened before he became governor,” noted Diane Ravitch- Massachusetts became #1 by doing things Romney now opposes, $$ to education, more on early childhood, etc.. but we can sure say he “loves teachers”

    • JDK

      I’m not so sure he should take credit for the fact that Massachusetts has many universities and thus a highly educated parent population.

  • Elle Pudewa

    I think that it was a pretty close tie. However, Romney was, sad to say, a little on the obnoxious side. The way he kept interrupting Obama and the moderator was quite annoying to me. I agree with Michelle Robinson that Obama got socked with the grades in Romney’s state though. In the final analysis I think that, although Romney improved toward the end of the debates, Obama had the upper hand and so therefore, I think he won.

    • Seriously? I thought the exact opposite. I actually wanted Romney to get in there and hit harder. Obama focused on the petty, was factually wrong on many things, and scoffed at Romney.

  • Elle Pudewa

    Okay now this is funny. During the discussion about less naval ships under Obama. Obama: “Well we don’t have horses or bayonets anymore either!”

    • Actually, horses were used extensively in Afghanistan and bayonets are still standard weapons used by marines. Obama’s response didn’t expose Romney’s ignorance; it exposed the current Commander in Chief’s.

      • JDK

        You know, I love this country, and am quite patriotic, and no matter what my views are, I speak respectfully of the current President of the USA.

        • Okay. With all due respect, President Obama seemed to not know that horses were a major asset in our war in Afghanistan, and every Marine in the field carries a bayonet. In the debate he attempted to “school” his challenger with a quip that turned out to be true.
          Better?

          • JDK

            That is up to you.

  • margie

    Romnesia-
    1.The act of forgetting a statement or belief that you had previously expressed the opposite point of view with regards to.
    A mental disorder that allows you to saying absolutely anything to win an election. Even if you do not actually believe it, or have said said the opposite in the past.

    Third Presidential Debate, its time for the new Romney- If Peace wins, well he will be into Peace.. he agreed with Obama not because that’s what he really believes, he agreed, because he was looking for the women vote and Peace wins elections, this guy will do and say anything regardless of what he said the day before, he has zero integrity. He loves teachers, the car industry, Latin America…Romney is a shameful candidate. While I do not agree with Ryan, and the image of him washing clean dishes at a homeless shelter with his loving family hours after the meal, might have put a little suds under his fingernails, he at least sticks to his beliefs.

    • One comment sticks with me: “Attacking me, Mr. President, is not an agenda.”