What’s Right with Politics in America: Debates Matter

From the editor: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conservations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

I’m going to vote for Obama, again. I’ll explain why in a future post. I’m not head-over-heels like I was four years ago, but I’m relatively comfortable with it.

However, like others — but not to the extent of someI was truly disappointed by BO’s debate performance in Debate #1. He was flat, disinterested, unengaged.

I speak publicly on a regular basis, so I know what’s it like to have an off day. It’s not the end of the world, you tell yourself. No one can be “on” all the time.

But I’ve also done some debating, and I’m never uninterested in those. Those are exciting and engaging and get me totally pumped. Debates are fun. And debates demand that you bring your A-game. Everyone who debates know that.

Which is what makes BO’s performance in Debate #1 so odd. I’ve heard all of the explanations and the one that seems the most likely to me that that BO has so little regard for Mitt Romney — even disdain for him — that it was everything he could do to fight back a sneer. And he’d been coached not to seem arrogant or aggressive, so he avoided picking fights. That was bad advice, and it backfired.

But, for all my disappointment with BO’s performance, there’s something that make me very glad. It’s the the debates seem to matter to the American public. Since the debate, many polls show the race to be neck-and-neck. That is, BO’s poor performance hurt him — and Romney’s good-but-not-great performance helped him.

And 67 million people watched.

So for all the moaning and gnashing of teeth that many of us do about the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on negative ads, they don’t seem to matter nearly as much as 90 minutes of the candidates talking to and arguing with one another.

I say, “Kudos to the American people!” If debates matter, then at least something about politics in America works.

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  • Larry Barber

    Why do you care about the debates? They have absolutely nothing to with being a good President. Not to mention that they are too often just a contest to see who can tell the most grandiose lie without being called on it.

  • Bob

    I felt this was the first time the President was held accountable for his record. The last time he debated against McCain he could spout idealistic nonsense (“I will go through the budget line by line…”). At his infrequent press conferences he obfuscates, and tries to run out the clock with long-winded, off-topic “answers.” This is not novel in any way, but this President receives a pass for such actions, and is lauded as God’s gift to oratory. I am calling BS on it!

    If you really want scrutiny of those in power elect a Republican, because the coddling of this administration has been an embarrassment to journalism, if not outright malpractice.

    • Eric E

      “The last time he debated against McCain he could spout idealistic nonsense…”

      Just like Romney did this time!

      • Bob

        Thank you for proving my point!

  • Evelyn

    I don’t think Obama really wants the job – Especially since the only effective actions he’s been able to take in the last two years have been getting involved in unjustified wars and targeting assassinations. I can imagine it’s frustrating.

  • “What’s right with politics in America,” says part of the title of this post.

    Politics is a distraction. Probably one of the worst, at least in this culture. I get policy (-principles-). I get government (-leadership-). I get the necessity of administration (-stewardship-) to care for “the least of these” in our communities. I get diplomacy (-fostering relationship with others-) and the importance of conflict resolution.

    But politics is about jockeying for the power to hold the reins of the state. Politics is about utilizing means and methods of obtaining influence and position. Politics is about landing on top and knocking another to the bottom.

    In the context of Christian faith, politics has no proper place. There is nothing “right” with it at all.

    • Tim OK

      love this

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  • ryan

    I agree with Larry. The fact that Americans ignore policy differences that have been talked about for the past two years and vote because of 60 minutes of fast talking is incredibly discouraging to me and part – just part – of the entire problem.

    • Eric E

      I tend to agree with this. Ezra Klein had a column in the Washington Post a week or so ago that showed a poll saying that American’s were more interested in party platforms than in speeches at the conventions. That was encouraging to me.

      Klein’s point was that the party platform tells you more about what the person will do in office than what they say in speeches or debates because the platform represents the people he or she will have to work with to get things done. As he said, if you want to know what a party actually thinks, rather than what it thinks will win votes, you should read the platform.

      • Bob

        Which is why abortion is illegal in this country after Bush and the Republicans controlled the whole ball of wax for several years, and their platform was explicitly pro-life. This also readily explains why Gitmo was closed after the 2008 elections

        Oh wait…

        If you had a nickel for every bright Ezra Klein idea, you would actually wind up owing money.

        • Larry Barber

          Just about the stupidest move the Republicans could make would be getting abortion made illegal. Without abortion as an issue a lot of their base would leave them. If the Democrats could pass restrictions on abortion while making look like the Republicans were doing it …. sheer genuis!

  • Tim

    This is a good post – can’t agree more. These debates are important, because ideas are important and you get to see actual people argue for them with their respective antagonist a few feet away – it’s the boxing of rhetoric. And it’s different than a commercial or a speech because you cannot manipulate the entire scene – that’s the virtue of debate.
    Of course, the best debater does not mean he has the best ideas nor does it necessarily mean he would be better in office (and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next one) but these debates are good for our society – you’re right they matter.

  • James

    People certainly have VERY SHORT MEMORIES!!!!!!!!!! What a first class mess Obama was handed and expected to clean up in a few years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Americans are such spoiled babies and want EVERYTHING NOW. It just does not work that way. How many of you squeakers have served this country in the last 40 years??????? Precious few of you who flap your ideas all the time, I’m sure. If you want this country to return to yesterday go ahead and elect a rich unconnected man who is a lier from the get go and blows like the wind!!!!!!!! At the heart of the country IS the fact that the biggot agenda still is alive and well 150 years after a civi war. SICK

  • A Medrano

    Okay okay people, lets my get off subject about them and they and lies and blah blah blah.

    Sticking to the topic of this post, I believe Obama was arrogant and tired. Truth is, he sucked that night. Afterwards, he was shocked that Romney performed so well. Romney definitely was energetic and had good posture and very focused.

    What I heard after the debate, well, the reaction from some I follow on twitter, was that Romney was a bully. Erg, ugh, well then, I guess confidence is the bully. If so, then that can go both ways and we got a real problem in public communication.

    I’ve flopped from one side to another. And I should expect a reaction from this but, the debate pushed me away from Obama and closer to Romney. And, like the polls reveal, it happened to many people. So, to what Mr Jones had said, the debate does still matter.

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