But I do like good political theater, so I tuned into the debate at the University of Denver on Wednesday night. Having elected to do that, the best decision I made was not to play any drinking game during the debate; if I had, I'd still be recovering from it right now. I still have a very fresh reminder of where the "lots of drink in a compressed time frame" ends up. (Warning note: a lot of what follows is a rehashing and fleshing out of stuff I Tweeted during the debate.)
Most people have been getting on Jim Lehrer for not cracking the whip on the President and Gov. Romney. I had no problem with that. It's often said that nobody goes to a sporting event to see the officials; just the same, everybody who tuned in two nights ago did so to watch the candidates. It was nice to see them dust it up a little and get after each other. As Chris Rock said in Head of State, a debate ain't nothing more than an argument, and giving them some space to argue is particularly interesting in a setting where their words aren't massaged before being spoken. And even when Lehrer did speak, his questions were what would be called "leading" in a trial courtroom. His first was to ask the candidates "how the President creates jobs." Much later, he asked them about the role of government in a way that implied there's some wide chasm between their views. Ideally, however, we would have gotten rid of Lehrer entirely and done this by 1970's San Diego local newsman rules. "Rule number one - no touching of the hair or face! And that's it! Now let's do this!"
The President's tenor and demeanor have been dissected at length elsewhere. I'm pretty sure - and I just checked on Wikipedia, so now I know it's true - that he's running for re-election, against the other guy on the stage with him two nights ago. So why did it seem like he was running on Bill Clinton's record, and against that of his immediate predecessor? Possibility A: he, like everybody else (possibly including Romney), has no idea what Romney really stands for or what the governor would do as President. Possibility B: he doesn't have the flashy thing from Men In Black, and by simply ignoring the bulk of his first term, he hopes the rest of the country will too. (We know it can't be the policies, because Obama has told us so; the President just "hasn't told his story" to the electorate.)
As for specific quibbles, it certainly didn't take the President long to utter the euphemism "invest" to describe government spending. I thought his invocation of Clinton was particularly rich for a couple of reasons. One, Slick Willy pivoted to the center after his party got hammered in 1994; Obama did no such thing two years ago. Two, much of the prosperity of Clinton's presidency had to do with the tech and Internet boom. Obama wouldn't destroy the Internet to rebuild it, right? Right, Paul Krugman? Lastly, when asked about entitlements, the President said Social Security was structurally sound. At the risk of channeling Rick Perry, so was Madoff and Associates for a time. I think I've already linked "Generational Warfare" here before, and it is long, but does a great job of laying out the numbers on Social Security and Medicare.
Governor Romney, on the other hand, has the advantage of being able to run against Obama's record - but didn't (and can't) truly capitalize on that. Of all the issues that have potential to galvanize the political right in this election, the Affordable Care Act might be the largest. Republicans across the nation responded by nominating the candidate who planted the seeds for Obamacare by implementing it at the state level. The best Romney could really do with that was to say that the Massachusetts plan was passed with bipartisan support - effectively a redundant statement, because how else would a Republican governor and an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature ever get anything done in the Bay State?
Everybody and their mother jumped down Romney's throat about his "Big Bird" comment, relating to terminating the subsidy to PBS. Neil DeGrasse Tyson likened it to deleting text files to free space on a 500 gigabyte hard drive. But I didn't see anybody on Team Blue taking the argument further, and marrying the Big Bird comment with the President's point that Romney would spend $2 trillion on the armed forces that they haven't asked for, and Romney's own admission that under no circumstance whatsoever would he trim the "defense" budget. I get a chuckle every time I hear a Republican champion his party as the one that favors small government. Neither party truly takes seriously the state of the federal balance sheet; they both love the money fires.
Out in the states - well, maybe not here in New York - there's a real debate going on about marijuana prohibition, and whether it should be scaled back or terminated entirely. We didn't hear one word about that on Wednesday night. Of course, that was a sensible thing for the organizers to do - because there's not even a sliver of daylight between the candidates on the efficacy of the War on Drugs (or whatever the drug czar is calling it these days). As for the national security state, we may have to wait for the rest of the debates, as I'm not sure it strictly qualifies under the definition of "domestic policy" from the first debate. But ask yourself - would a President Romney even tap the brakes on John Pistole's reign of terror? Would he burn the "kill list" that we know Obama has? Would he render moot the Federal court case over section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act?
Wednesday night's debate did nothing to alter my belief that this election is like the 2009 World Series, or Alien vs. Predator - "whoever wins, we lose." But the biggest loser is near and dear to my heart: my alma mater. Eleven days hence, Hofstra welcomes the world - and these two circus attractions. It may result in a day without classes, but October 16 will be a day that presents far more hassles for the majority of the community. Perhaps it'll end up being worth it... but I feel as though in order to make that happen, Obama, Romney, or perhaps Candy Crowley would really have to surprise us. I'm talking about maybe something you'd normally see in the WWE. Regardless of what happens a week from Tuesday, Hofstra will remain strong. It has survived financial turmoil in the 1970's, the loss of its football team, and a presidential debate four years ago - it'll make it through another.
P.S. MAD Magazine nailed it with this old-timey poster: