The pundits score debates on style and substance. But what exactly is the connection between the two, between form and content? Despite what policy wonks might think, there is nothing superficial about style. Style reveals something about the substance of the man or woman. We want a president with character, and the way one comports oneself in a debate is a window into character. For example, Joe Biden's grimaces and laughter last week unveiled the fact that he is an emotional man with a temper.
On Tuesday night, Romney also told us more than what he managed to put into words. Prior to the debate, the two teams worked out a long and complicated contract like document in which it was agreed that there would be no direct questioning between the candidates. Early on in the contest, Romney threw that agreement out the window as he leaped up and started jabbing his finger at Obama, moving into his space and directly pressing the president. It was an ugly moment that I experienced as more disrespectful than Biden's chuckles.
Of course, in time, the President did some of the same -- but once Romney ripped up the rule book he had no choice. When Romney falsely imagined that he had caught the president in a deception about Libya, the former governor's mask fell off and he took on the demeanor of an angry high school principle. Romney's levels of aggression were beyond the red line and in his verbal sparring with Candy Crowley, he comported himself like a CEO barking orders from behind a big desk.
In the post debate discussion, MSNBC analyst Chris Hayes made an illuminating point. Hayes argued that dismissing rules has been the trouble with the one percent in the US for sometime. Paraphrasing Hayes: when the rules don't suit them, they ignore them. And that is precisely what Romney did when he became flustered. He tossed aside the rules for the debate and uncloaked himself as an impetuous, authoritarian individual who can get ugly when things aren't going his way.