Last night, the University of Denver hosted the closest thing we have to an all-out gladiatorial sword fight in American Politics: The First Presidential Debate. Here, instead of playing Mean Girls and throwing catty barbs at one another from across the lunchroom, our two candidates, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, had the chance to get right up in each other's faces and declare to the public how they really feel. We were promised blood, guts, glory and, god-willing, maybe even a tear or two (okay, we really weren't promised a damn thing, but I was hopeful). What we got was, and I'm being VERY diplomatic here, a bit of a drag. Oh, and it seems like everyone this morning has collectively agreed that Romney "won" the debate, but I was left feeling like the only real winner here was the cash register at the bar in Brooklyn where my friends and I were watching, as our collective boredom drove us to increasingly heavy drinking throughout the unstructured and seemingly interminable hour and half affair.
Now, I am by no means a political connoisseur. I know generally where the two candidates stand on the economy and health care (Obama favors expanded government programs to remedy both problems, whereas Romney opts for restricting government involvement), as well as social issues like gay marriage and abortion (Obama is for expanding personal rights to all Americans, whereas Romney somehow only endorses big government when it comes to legislating what goes on in your body and bedroom). I also (surprise!) already know who I'm voting for (hint: it's the black dude). But I tried to go into last night's debate with as open a mind as possible, and with the intention of maybe even learning a few things.
While these goals proved a wee bit lofty, I did take away a few things from last night's drab-fest. Here is a quick list of five things I learned while watching the first presidential debate:
1. Obama seems really, really tired
Look, it's obviously been a long four years for our intrepid president. The first thing I noticed last night was that Obama looks about 30 years older than the candidate who, with considerable skill and aplomb, took down the historic McCain/Palin tornado of 2008. And who can blame him? This man gets up each and every day to two wars, a crumbling economy and infrastructure system, global warming, an increasingly uneducated population and a bunch of urgent missed calls from Hilary Clinton. AND he has two kids and a wife. AND he can't even smoke a doobie to unwind at the end of the day! So yeah, he's stressed and exhausted and it really showed last night. Instead of calling out Romney on what seemed like, at best, his avoidance of many truths over the course of the debate proceedings, Obama provided little resistance to steamroll of fictions espoused by Romney. The man on stage last night was not the same sharp, highly energized dude that took the election in 2008. Maybe he needed a coffee?
2. Mitt Romney is not a huge planner
After watching a lot of the post-debate analysis on TV last night and reading about it this morning, everyone seems really certain the Romney "won" this debate. While I agree that Mittens came off as more acute and less wooden than he has historically (it's worth noting here that "historically," the bar is set pretty low), it still remains largely unclear to me what Romney's actual plans are once elected. There was a lot "once I take office, this will happen" and "under my plan, this will happen," last night, but not a lot of detailing what those plans actually are. "At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves: "Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans toreplace secret because they're too good?" as quipped Obama in a rare showing of life. Could it be that Mitt's plans are so astounding that revealing them will be too catastrophic for our simple, plebeian minds to process? Maybe Mitt is a master of suspense, keeping these plans a secret until the next, thrilling episode of "Debate Night?" Only time will tell!
3. Never look down
Seriously, I get that they're furiously writing notes, but both candidates, especially President Obama, spent WAY too much time looking down while the other was talking. Since TV viewers can't see the notepads on which they're scribbling, the downward gaze just made Obama look extra bored, aloof and also a little like he was filing his nails under the podium.
4. Jim Lehrer has hosted every debate since the American Revolution
I'm just saying, maybe time for a change?
5. He who has the jokes, has the people
As mentioned earlier, Romney is not huge on silly "plans." However, what he was certainly big on during this debate, and an important reason why I think everyone feel he took the debate crown, is that his sense of humor was on-point. While I've never thought of him as a comedian, or even as someone with a normal human pulse, last night it was clear right from the jump that Romney had the headlining spot over Obama at the Laugh Factory. While the president was all busy acting like the cute, but rather droll history professor you kinda had a crush on in college, Romney was a regular bag of laughs, joking with the president about spending his wedding anniversary with him on stage, making light of some of the heavier political issues, and chuckling heartily while threatening to take Big Bird away from children. It may have been condescending, manipulative and slightly mean-spirited, but it worked.
So that's that. Overall, the whole thing felt like a lot of hot air, with both candidates mostly hitting on the same talking points they've been hammering home since what feels like the dawn of time (the campaign has actually only been going on for six months, if you can believe it), with no real substance or fresh perspective. Romney won by default, if only for not seeming like a wind-up robot for once and the president, meanwhile, clearly needs to either find a way to reignite that old spark or discover Adderall before the two next face off again on the 16th in New York.
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