I’ve been flat on my back for the last two days (well, a lot longer than that, but let’s not make this about me) and so I have had a lot of time to read commentary on the debate. And it is making me want to say: Geesh.
I saw as much of the debate myself as my (tragic, pitiable) condition and (heroic, self-sacrificing) parental duties would allow.
I thought it was excellent, one of the best I’ve seen, ever. Real substance, a battle of numbers and ideas instead of slogans and zingers, all of it building to a real engagement in differences in fundamental philosophy.
But much of the commentary is treating all of that as secondary. Romney won because he looked presidential. Obama lost because he looked at his podium. On the right, what Romney said was great, especially because he wasn’t what Obama’s ads say he is. On the left, what Romney said was wrong, but he said it like he totally meant it. Good for him.
Serious voices used to complain that political contests have become popularity contests. Now, when Facebook has made everyday life a popularity contest, you seem hopelessly out of touch if you complain about that.
But the ascendance of marketing has been a long time coming, and it has hurt us in any number of ways. One way that is often overlooked: Making everything about its marketing hides true achievement.
Remember what they said about Ronald Reagan? He succeeded because he was an actor. Really? The skills that made Bedtime With Bonzo a non-hit were sufficient to bring the Cold War to a peaceful end and turn around a recession?
They said it about Pope John Paul II too. He succeeded because he was an actor and a showman. Seriously? A stint in Polish avant-garde theater provides one with just the right skills necessary to change the trajectory of the Church in the modern world?
Likewise, Mitt Romney won the debate because his tone had just the right air of authority and spirit while avoiding condescension. Maybe.
Or maybe it was the opposite.
Maybe he won because he didn’t turn every policy into a marketing slogan. Maybe he won because he sidestepped the silly ideological assumptions of “Are you for or against regulation?” and said “I am for good regulation but not bad regulation.” Maybe he won because he refused to see the world in stark ideological terms and looked at its component parts and how they function.
Maybe he won because he listed the founding principles of the Declaration of Independence and explained how each applies to the world today.
Maybe he won because he didn’t rely on style.
(As for me, he had me at “I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country.” And it wasn’t just the way he said it, either.)