Call it the night of the duelling tie pins. The President and his challenger, Willard Romney, came together to stand at podiums and regurgitate rehearsed, voter-winning speeches about jobs and the economy. In front of them was a confused old man and a studio audience which occasionally impersonated a very subtle laugh track. In this auspicious setting (the University of Denver, lol), Mitt Romney had the best night of his life, which is saying something, as I hear he is a billionaire tyrant. He won the debate.
He displayed confidence and certainty, controlled the argument and hit his talking points. He managed to actually come across as a human being, as opposed to an enormous piece of toffee. And perhaps it mattered. The Guardian was creating live gifs of the event from tumblr HQ, so that’s definitely an indicator of the magnitude of the whole thing.
Ah, the classic debate setup, in which two men talk to or about each other, but do not look at each other. As it was in Athens, so it was at the University of Denver. Obama looked at moderator Jim Lehrer a lot, which meant he looked down and to the left on the main camera, which is code for shifty. He started by wishing his wife a happy anniversary, which must have seemed like a great, human idea backstage. Unfortunately it was muttered oddly by an exhausted looking man and the audience simply shivered.
Both Mitt and Barry wore solid suits and solid ties. Gone are the days when a sweaty maniac like Nixon was allowed on TV. These guys have aides brushing them with a vast selection of brushes for hours before the debate. Romney’s aides had also made his head look bigger, which is code for winning.
The old man in charge of keeping the debate civil and on time was veteran news broadcaster, Jim Lehrer. He was shit. Really shit and everyone knows he got bullied by big-faced Mitt. I can say that because I'm English and have no affection for an old American goat like Lehrer. This meant that the whole thing mumbled off in a direction no-one wanted. People wanted to see fireworks; they wanted to see Obama bellowing “Yes we can, four more beers!” to a crowd of righteous believers, before Romney thundered back with some Old Testament fire and brimstone, courtesy of the Book of Mormon. Sadly, the reality was that both candidates revealed themselves to be boring policy wonks.
The public wanted ideology, but, of course, ideology has all but died and what they were looking at was two middle-aged men who believe in differing variations of capitalism. Barry and Mitt know this, which is why they name-dropped Bill "renaissance" Clinton so many times.
Despite generally being on top, Romney spent a good deal of the night gazing at the President like a moonstruck teenager. Sometimes, he’d try and change this look into one of benign condescension, as if to say, “Yes, he is wrong, but he is the President and he tries so very hard.” At other times, it looked like Obama's beauty was too overwhelming for him and perhaps he might break down and cry. Obama generally looked like he was tired of dealing with a precocious child, which was fair enough, but a little awkward given that the child was beating him. Both gladiators used their best sincere faces when talking about “the folks”.
When you are running for president, you meet a lot of "folks". "Folks" that have an impact. Normal "folks". Good American "folks". It’s as if there is a company out there that provides Presidential candidates with a steady supply of “wonderful”, “honest” men and women to meet in places like Dayton, Ohio and Wichita, Nebraska. These people are teachers who run small companies and have children in the military. They manage to represent the whole of America in one single body. They are often Eagles. Movies starring Helen Hunt are made about them.
It wasn't a good night for BO. Sure, when he turns that megawatt smile on, you stand in awe, blinded by its magnificent dazzle, but the smile was all too rarely employed. He seemed disinterested and perhaps a little exhausted by the planet, in the back of his mind perhaps he was worrying about the news that elsewhere, right then, Syria and Turkey had begun trading misiles. You longed to give him a coffee, a slap, or a bump – anything to stop him sleepwalking to a defeat. He talked about Romney’s failure to be specific on certain issues (healthcare reform, tax deductions), but he failed to hammer Romney for saying he'd kill 47 percent of Latinos, or whatever it was he said.
While the debate went to Romney, there were crucial moments that went to Obama. Romney, talking about spending cuts, told the host, a PBS employee, that the subsidy to PBS would be cut. “I like PBS. I like Big Bird,” spluttered Romney. Then why are you killing Big Bird, Mitt? Why are you killing Big Bird? Predictably, everyone picked up on Romney’s plan to kill a beloved children’s TV character, and before you could say “hashtag”, a fired Big Bird account was up and running on Twitter. Anyone who followed that deserves a shit in their mouths.
In their closing speeches, the candidates did that deep into the camera look thing and tried to convince us they had a vision for America. Big O's eyes weren't enough to save his life, it had been a shitshow. I guess he was never going to do well on a debate about the economy because, well, he has not done well with the economy. It was perhaps because of this that Romney could peddle an oddly indistinct tax policy ("if it interferes with cutting debt, I won’t do it") and not catch much heat from the President. So economy was always gonna be tough, but Obamacare? Dude, you spent two years on the cross, losing friends and fighting for this, why were you such a massive unpersuasive pussy about the topic last night?
With the debate done, these two middle-aged men could slap each other on the back, smile and congratulate themselves and each other. Such accomplishment! The internet, on the other hand, was disappointed with the lack of fighting or "zingers" (a word whose usage is currently FLYING OUT OF CONTROL).
Then there was some family time. Well, Romney brought his enormous Mormon brood onstage and swallowed Barack and Michelle. The Presidential couple vanished quickly, leaving Mitt to soak up the night. Obama's clear urgency to leave the stage compounded a bad night where Romney came out on top. The Right will claim that he killed it and that he can win in November. The Left will claim the President had an off night and, hey, lay off, he has to run the world during the day. The media will hype a Romney "comeback" because they know how to write that story and a tight race sells papers.
In truth, Romney has been running for President for two straight years. The President has been governing for four. Both ran in 2008, so add another two years to the tally. Point is: We know who these people are. Most Americans have already made up their minds. A night of TV does not alter the choice, though it is an entertaining sporting event.
Wondering just who exactly this Obama guy is and why this Romney fella is arguing with him? Read this:
More stuff to get you excited about the American Presidential election: