Political Debates: Addicted to Zingers
I’m looking forward to the debates. Let’s put it that way. – Mitt Romney
I know folks are speculating already on who’s going to have the best zingers. Who is going to put the most points on the board? – Barack Obama
I’m looking forward to the debates next week! Are you? – My Wife
I’ve discovered a bit of wisdom during the last nine-and-a-half-years-of-my-blessed-married-life: Do not argue with the wife. Because I’m usually wrong. I mean, Obama and Romney have nothing on Carrie; my wife is a good debater.
But last week, I did argue. And, actually, it wasn’t much of a debate. I was so thoroughly logical, so thoroughly correct in my reasoning that she didn’t stand a chance. It was over in the 15 seconds it took to say 5 sentences. No zingers. No points to put on the board. Just the solid, honest, with a capitol T, Truth. And so last week when she asked, “I’m looking forward to the debates next week! Are you?” I replied:
No. I hate these debates. There is no point. Everyone knows who they are going to vote for anyway and these debates aren’t about policy. We only watch because we want to see our guy humiliate our opponent.
To which Carrie responded, “That was a buzz kill. Sorry I asked.”
But we already see this dynamic happening. Each candidate is imitating the other with pre-debate “zingers.” The New York Times reported on Friday that “Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August.” The Romney team has taken some heat from conservative and liberal media outlets, but Romney’s team is right. I mean, who cares about debating policy! We look forward to these debates for one reason: The zingers! We are addicted to zingers. We want to witness another zinger like the one Senator Bentson gave to Senator Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy!” We want our guy to look smart and polished, which means we also want our guy to make our opponent look stupid.
In response to Romney’s “zinger” preparation, the Obama team attempted to take the high road. But instead they simply imitated their rival by providing a zinger of their own. Politico reports that Jen Psaki, Obama campaign spokeswoman, mocked Romney for their prepared “zingers and special lines” and then stated, “That is not what the president’s focus is on. He wants to speak directly to the families of people who are on their couches at home.” At a recent campaign rally reported by the LA Times, Obama himself made a pre-debate zinger by promising “not zingers but ‘a serious discussion [because] that’s the debate you deserve.’” The Obama team wants us to know that while Romney is churlishly focused on “zingers,” the president is focused on what really matters: the American people.
I don’t want to get sucked into the drama of the debates, so I’m not going to watch. No matter which side you are on, it’s pretty obvious that Obama is right. Politics is a game of zingers and points. So I’m not going to watch as each candidate attempts a verbal beat down of his opponent. I’m not going to watch as Romney plays the game by attempting to force “Obama to come across as condescending or smug.” And I’m not going to watch Obama play the game as he attempts “to show that Mr. Romney would drive the country in an extreme ideological direction at odds with the interests of the middle class.” I’m not going to be fooled into believing this is anything like a true “debate.”
It’s a game. And we deserve better. I don’t only blame the politicians. I blame us, too. But until we take responsibility by weaning ourselves away from our addiction to “zingers,” that’s exactly what we’ll get.