THE BLOG
10/05/2012 03:44 pm ET | Updated Dec 05, 2012

The First Debate: Reality TV Style

Like many, I watched the debate Wednesday night.

And like many, I was disappointed. Though for different reasons than most people, I believe.

I've refrained from watching much of the post-debate commentary, as the 'spin' has a tendency to replace in the memory what actually happened.

Yet some general themes of the spin are worth noting.

The overwhelming opinion -- from both sides of the aisle -- is that Mitt Romney 'won.' He was energetic. He was polished. He said all the right things and sounded great, throwing in some zingers that amped his performance. Never mind that he repeatedly contradicted his campaign premise and that his numbers didn't add up. It was the best of both liberal and conservative policies rolled into an impossible one; the sun and the moon shining at the same time, if you will. And it played beautifully.

But is playing beautifully the measure of what makes for a successful performance in a presidential debate?

On Friday morning, David Axelrod -- responding to accusations that the President was weak -- said again and again: The fact checkers will have their way with Romney. The president's commitment was singular: to talk to the American people like adults who -- he and the campaign believed -- wanted an honest, thoughtful conversation about the state of the union and both sets of proposed policies.

Sadly, that doesn't seem to have been the case. And it's not surprising, as thoughtful and honest conversation is no longer the standard in our national discourse. Marketing dollars instead rush to programming that entertains -- including programming that used to be and still calls itself the news.

What's more, the standard of what we call entertainment has plummeted dramatically over the last 40 or so years. Comedic and dramatic affairs used to be imbued with thoughtfulness and relational value. Today however, we live on a steady diet of shock and reality TV, where the stars and winners are not those with the most training, education, or talent, but those who yell the loudest, interrupt the most, and tell the best tale.

If you're unsure of how far we've fallen, try to imagine Snooki on The Cosby Show, or a Real Housewife of New Jersey on M*A*S*H.

Much of media-saturated America wasn't tuning in Wednesday for an adult conversation about the state of the union and ideas that would move us forward. Thanks to our conditioning, we were sitting ringside, hoping that our guy would beat the other, reality TV-style.

As I went to bed that night, it seemed obvious to me that the president won. Sure, he wasn't as 'zingy' as Romney. Sure, his truth wasn't as fun as the fantasy Romney was delivering in attractive bite-sized parcels.

Still, if what the spin suggests is true, Americans preferred a modern-day TV performance over being spoken to like adults. What a sad day for America.

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