Grassroots Commentary

The Superficial Power of Tonight's Debate

Joan Fischer · Oct. 3, 2012

So I’m thinking about the looming presidential debate and hoping, more than all else, that Mitt Romney’s honesty and decency will show through, and that the sunlight will shine on Barack Obama’s duplicity and reliance on the American public’s acceptance of “situational truths.”

I’ve had it up to here with reports of the debaters being in seclusion, working with their coaches, etc.

I’m betting that, when Lincoln and Douglas were set to debate for the Illinois senate seat back in 1858, there were no debate coaches, no need for days of seclusion, no make-up artists making sure that their candidate doesn’t perspire too much, etc. In fact, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates there were no moderators, simply a timekeeper.

It seems to me that a genuine debate should consist of one candidate asking the other a question, the other answering, and then the questioner being allowed a rebuttal, and so on. Why do we need media questioners who, no doubt, will pose questions favorable to their own personal favorite, in this case the unanimous questioners’ choice being the incumbent president?

Why can’t both candidates simply speak the truth about their positions, their views about the problems facing America, and their plans to solve those problems, without coaching, without concern about their attire, their movements and facial expressions, their tone of voice, etc.? I’ll tell you why. Because the American public has become so conditioned to place emphasis on superficialities, and so incapable of discerning for themselves truth from lies, sincerity from deceit.

Television is a very physically intimate medium. Watching two candidates’ physical behaviors on a television screen, and using that observation as a major criterion in deciding for whom one will vote, is counter-productive at best, and dangerous and foolish at worst. And when an audience has been conditioned to base decisions on superficialities, glib language and good delivery can trump honesty and decency every time.

Those Americans who heard the Nixon-Kennedy debates on the radio thought Nixon’s performance was superior, but those who watched the debates on television gave Kennedy the nod, hands down. The producer, Don Hewitt, bent over backwards to make Nixon look bad, no matter what words were being said, and he did a masterful job of influencing the viewers’ opinions of those words. Today, more than fifty years later, those in charge of stage logistics, make-up, etc. have significantly more power and bias.

Why should a candidate’s appearance, body language, perceived level of confidence, tendency to perspire, etc. have any influence at all on the voting public’s opinion of his qualifications to be president? I’ll grant you that the advent of television makes all of those physical/superficial characteristics significantly more apparent than they would have been in the nineteenth century, or if the debates were heard over radio, but so what?

Simply because I am able to see someone’s appearance shouldn’t make that appearance any more important in my evaluation of him/her as a human being, and it certainly shouldn’t have much, if any, effect on whether or not I believe he/she is honest, worthy of my trust, and capable of leading my country out of a perilous abyss.

Studying the candidates’ repeated behaviors, actions, personal/business/political choices, mentors, habits, associates, evidence of compassion, courage, allegiances, etc., over the past several decades – that is the basis on which to determine one’s opinion of a candidate’s ability to lead effectively. An hour and a half of scripted questions and answers, followed by the mainstream media’s interpretations of the candidates’ body language, comfort, level of confidence, and choice of words, is meaningless.

I’ll watch the debate tonight, but I’ll watch it under protest. Not only will the “results,” as reported by the mainstream media, be skewed toward superficialities, but the importance and physical superficialities of this debate will be magnified out of all justifiable proportion. Both candidates have decades of personal and professional “history” behind them. Any voter who isn’t completely familiar with those two histories, and who is making up his mind based on an hour and a half of scripted questions and answers, shouldn’t be voting at all.

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