October 4, 2012
by Ben Wattenberg
Since the first of the modern televised debates -- Kennedy versus Nixon in 1960 -- these programs have often had a potent impact on the presidential elections in which they were featured.
The potential was great this year.
When President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney squared off Wednesday night in Denver, Colo., there was an interesting and unusual background. The polls showed the president ahead, but not by a great deal, and apparently falling. He was much better known. Romney was still a blank slate to many prospective voters. So what happened in the debate?
Not a whole lot. Pundits expected a "game changer." That didn't happen.
Some decades ago I worked as "editorial scout" for one of the huge New York City publishing houses. I would present book ideas to an outspoken division vice president. He would hear me out and pronounce one of two verdicts; 1) "let's do it" or 2) "borrring !")
This debate was boring. No humor; no notable phrases; two candidates in the same suits with American flag pins in their lapels; talking very seriously. No discussion of gaffes -- and there have been plenty. No discussion of voter identification or the stunning diminishment of military ballots.
Two candidates apparently different only in their age. Romney is 65, Obama is 51.
Yet, in fact, there are vast philosophical differences. The president apparently leans toward a European social welfare state model; the governor is for that old-time religion of market capitalism.
I like to think I know something about these matters. Alas, I didn't get the wonkery. Last night didn't even have the poetry of the late Sen. Russell Long, D-La.: "Don't tax me; don't tax thee, tax the man behind the tree."
Lincoln-Douglas this wasn't.
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