Wednesday, October 3, 2012 is the BIG night, the face off, the supreme contest, the ultimate battle, the main event.
At 9:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time drums will roll; trumpets will trumpet as PBS CSPAN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, MSNBC and, for all I know, Animal Planet and Nickelodeon broadcast the first 2012 Presidential Debate from the University of Denver . Fifty million Americans will be holding their collective breaths as Mitt and Barack will go at it mano a mano after months of sparing, preparation and coaching. Oh, the thrill of it all! Oh, the anticipation.
Jim Lehrer will do his best to keep the combatants on target and the action going. Hannity, Matthews, Maddow, Blitzer, Cooper, plus a phalanx of commentators, and seemingly anyone with coiffed hair who has mouthed the word “Republican” or “Democrat” will be at the ready to interpret, analyze and unequivocally declare the winner the millisecond the spent debaters break from their obligatory, phony, final handshake.
Networks will electronically monitor focus groups composed of “undecided” voters. Their reactions to each thrust and parry will be compiled and analyzed. It does, however, appear outrageous to me that the opinions of this cohort, arguably the most uninformed, timid, and indecisive group of our citizenry, have great predictive validity and should be of interest to anyone with a functioning brain.
In the days following the big debate the American public will be relentlessly bombarded with video snippets of bruising punches, painful jabs, inglorious misses, below-the-belt hits and maybe, just maybe, a KNOCKOUT blow.
Truth be told, most research indicates that Presidential debates have little or no impact on actual voting. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/29/obama-romney-debates_n_1925690.html ) Most voters at this late stage in the game have their minds made up, and they ain’t likely to change.
We the people have seen Obama react to real crises and deal with countless reporters’ questions and challenges. Romney has been running for the public office for years, and for the Presidency since 2008. Aware citizens know how these men react; they have seen their skills lauded and their gaffs ridiculed. The most likely effect of a candidate’s performance, and I mean performance, is to not change but rather to reinforce opinions already held.
Few past debates have affected outcomes of elections. Perhaps the two most famous of these were the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate and the 1980 Reagan-Carter match-off. The 1960 debate was pivotal neither because of words spoken nor opinions stated, but rather because of sweat and 5 o’clock shadow. Nixon was incredibly non-telegenic and Kennedy glimmered like a cool and collected young rock star. In 1980 when Carter and Reagan were running neck and neck, Reagan used his honed thespian skills to undo the plain-talking peanut-farmer candidate.
Decades later it seems likely that make-up artists, media savvy personnel, and script preparation greatly lower the likelihood of an impactful debate. Thus despite all the hoopla, October 3 will likely make for a pretty uneventful evening and have little effect on November 6th.
Why expect otherwise? Each candidate has his must-include-lines memorized; lines which will be utilized as answers, even if they do not fit the question asked. Mitt and Barack both have clever gotcha’s and zingers, and given the slightest opportunity to get a laugh, generate some audience applause, or embarrass the foe; they will be launched.
The upcoming contest is in many ways like a WWE wrestling event: well planned, great build up, unlimited expectations, great announcing, faux anger, a little humor, coupled with much show and bluster. However, occasionally, something goes wrong; reality breaks out, blood is drawn and wrestling history made.
That history will be made next Wednesday – doubtful. Fifty million viewers including me sitting on the edge of their seats watching and waiting for that unlikely history-making knockout – non-debatable. Let’s get the popcorn ready.