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Mean-spirited Presidential Debates Won't Change Many Folks' Minds

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There was an earthquake that shook up some Americans up Tuesday night.

No, the ground did not shake in Long Island when a more aggressive President Obama showed up at Hofstra University, this time to vigorously engage Mitt Romney in their second of three presidential debates.

Instead, a very rare and weak 4.0 magnitude earthquake hit southern Maine a little after 7 p.m. and shook up Americans as far south as Connecticut.

That mellow shifting of the Earth's plates, not the debate in Long Island, was all that shook some Americans Tuesday night.

Tuesday's debate was a draw.

While the president accomplished not only reinvigorating his campaign with a much stronger performance, Mitt Romney continued to be a strong debater, holding his ground against an aggressive Obama and what seemed at times an equally belligerent (and very disappointing) moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN.

The first debate in Denver, which was much more civil, surprisingly proved to have a dramatic impact on the race, with Romney building much needed momentum and gaining in the polls to tie and even lead Obama.

In turn, with both candidates exhibiting a detestable debating style, this second debate will have little, if any, consequence on the contest.

The Hofstra debate, with its less formal, interactive town hall format, was billed as a folksy battle designed to attract interest from American women (as if they vote as one big group) and provide an opportunity for both candidates, particularly Romney, to show they can relate to the trials and tribulations of the "average" American.

Instead, it quickly degraded into a mean-spirited, verbal exchange that reminded me of those often found on cable news shows like Fox's Hannity, where discussions deteriorate into shouting matches -- and where viewers fail to glean any real facts or important position points as a result of the acrimony.

Indeed, much of the Wednesday morning political quarterbacking dwelled on the physical aspects of the debate and the mannerisms Romney and Obama employed.

Questions were raised whether the constant interrupting a la Joe Biden, the finger pointing, and the almost bullying gestures toward one another, and even Crowley, turned off American voters.

Taking my son to catch a train back to college after a short break, I was forced Tuesday night to listen to, not watch, the debate on my car radio. From the start, it "sounded" just awful -- to the point where this political junkie wanted to instead tune in to the Detroit-Yankee baseball game.

The spiteful voices of both candidates were annoying and even distracting -- their pitch and tenor overrode the meaning of the words they were articulating to a radio audience. In an instant, both candidates turned me off. They conjured simultaneously repressed memories of mean-spirited third grade lunch room fights between rival girls and my misery from enduring the inane, egghead lectures by an insufferable law school contracts professor with a voice rivaling the Wicked Witch of the West.

The big loser Tuesday night was the American people in terms of the failure of this debate's format and execution to facilitate a civil, informative conversation that could help Americans either decide who to vote for or whether their initial decision to vote against Obama or Romney should be changed.

Contrasting the civility of the Denver event, and even the subsequent VP debate where Paul Ryan remained relatively subdued against a grinning, overbearing Biden, the Hofstra debate was an ugly exhibition of what most Americans hate about the downright ugliness of American politics today and its corresponding intellectually shallow, soundbite discourse concerning the important issues of the days.

One thing is for sure, with the polls remaining tight and the election only weeks away, there won't be a political earthquake at next Monday's debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton -- just another mean-spirited presidential debate over foreign policy. Sadly both candidates will once again sound and act like a typical, obnoxious Bronx Bomber devotee, even as many disappointed Yankee fan transplants in the Lynn audience will be uncharacteristically subdued after days of sulking about Detroit's continued quest for a World Series championship.

Published in the 'Sun Sentinel' on Oct. 18, 2012

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary at stevenkurlander.com and writes weekly columns in The Sun Sentinel and The Florida Voices. He can be emailed at kurly@stevenkurlander.com.

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