Sitting On The Fence

I read a fascinating article on Yahoo News about a young woman in Ohio who was monitored while watching the presidential debates. Though she thought Obama “won” the debate, given his “confidence and better grasp of policies,” she wasn’t particularly impressed by either candidate. Her name is Maggie O’Toole and she is still on the fence trying to decide which candidate will get her vote. Maggie is part of the “Millennial generation,” so-called; a somewhat independent voter who leans toward the Republican camp though, like many others in her generational group, she is disenchanted with the Republican social proposals regarding such things as gay marriage and abortion.

At one point in the article, Ms O’Toole was asked what would get her off the fence and her reply included this rather interesting comment:

With two more debates to go, what will it take for O’Toole to make a decision?

“Maybe just [for] one of them to terribly screw up and have a Sarah Palin moment where one of them proves to be inept,” she says.

If anyone doubts what I have been saying about the TV debates and their value as entertainment (borrowing from Neil Postman), this comment should seal the deal. Clearly, this woman is more interested in seeing how the candidates perform on TV than she is in thinking about how they would perform in office. Where has she been for the past several months? Mitt Romney has had several “Palin moments” off-camera where he has proven himself to be “inept.” His comments to a group of well-healed Republicans about the poor in this country (which he is trying mightily to take back as I write this blog) and his foot-in-mouth gaffes in England during the Olympics and more recently after the killings in Libya would comprise “Palin moments” in most people’s minds I would think.

But Maggie O’Toole, like so many others, apparently does not follow the news or read excellent blogs like those of the “old fart.” She is waiting to see something happen in one of the three 90 minute debates that will decide the issue for her. And she is supposedly a well-educated person (as we loosely define “education” these days), a “20-something professional” who is a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm while currently working on her MBA. Needless to say, she wants to see which of these two men will turn the economy around. But one has to ask what she expects to see in 180 minutes of TV watching that will change her mind?

Neil Postman was absolutely right: we live in the age of entertainment. We have short attention spans and base our decisions largely on how we feel about things rather than what we think about things. There are a great many people like Maggie O’Toole who still sit on the fence waiting for a strong wind to blow them one way or the other. Her time would be better spent checking on the records of the two men and looking behind the words and the TV impressions to get a better grasp of what one or the other of these men will do in the coming years to help the country regain its footing, nationally and internationally.

The remarkable thing here is not that there are a great many undecided people like Maggie O’Toole, but that there are so many people who will weigh heavily in their deliberations the performance of a man on camera exchanging bromides, zingers, and slogans with his opponent  — voters who apparently wait to see how these men perform three times on TV before they begin to decide who is worthy of their vote. But then, perhaps that is better than those who vote without even watching the debates or bothering to think about what these men have done thus far in their respective political careers.

Obama’s Hustle?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I didn’t watch the presidential debates. But I have read that Mitt Romney “won” the initial debate and the Obama supporters are in a dither. The talking heads are having a field day though Ted Koppel seems to be having apoplexy wondering why Obama didn’t play all the cards in his hand — why didn’t he mention that he had bailed out two of America’s largest car companies thereby saving thousands of jobs? Why didn’t he allude to Mitt’s blunder in his presentation to the fat-cat Republicans who were giving him money by the boatloads by failing to reference the infamous 47%? And so it goes.

From what I read Barack Obama seemed somewhat disinterested after hugging his wife and mentioning to the world that they had been married for 20 years. What sort of game was he playing? Or didn’t he come to play at all? These are the types of questions that people are asking. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that these debates are really entertainment staged for TV and presented to audiences with short attention spans. I still maintain that this is the case: all of the comments I have read focus on the impressions the two debaters made and none of this has anything whatever to do with which man would make the better president.

In any event, I take solace in the fact that Obama is a master politician and I suspect he knows what he is doing. His fundraisers have been filling cyberspace and the phone lines with appeals for more money to hold off the millions of dollars people like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are spending in swing states to buy their man the election. I hesitate to suggest that Obama is involved in a clever ploy to raise more money to fuel his campaign in the final weeks. But I do think the man knows what he is doing and that he realizes that while he has lost this battle in the eyes of the voting public, he has not lost the war. The ploy may have begun when he downplayed his debating skills before the debates began, though we know better. This may well be Obama playing Minnesota Fats to Romney’s Fast Eddie: it may be a hustle designed to get the opponent to relax his guard until the final debates when he will come out fresh and primed for the contest and use the final moments on national TV to vault him back into the White House.

In any event, it has certainly made for interesting TV and will assuredly raise viewer interest in the final debates, which tends to fall off historically. One down and two to go! But whether or not this is the case, as I say, it has nothing whatever to do with the central question at issue: which of these two men will make the better president? Perhaps we should worry less about how these men performed on TV and worry more about which one would perform better on the world stage as this country enters an uncertain future.