Public Comment

My Take on the Presidential Debate

By Joseph Stubbs
Thursday October 04, 2012 - 04:34:00 PM

I am disturbed by the reaction to the first round of debates. The 2012 first Obama/Romney presidential debate featured a performance by Mitt Romney which was an abomination of psychological techniques surely compiled by the best and the brightest, techniques designed to affect and compel us on an emotional level while at the same time encouraging us to disregard critical analysis of the content of what he was saying. The latter effect was most effectively achieved by ‘snowballing’ ideas into a blizzard of phrases which were virtually impossible to digest, weigh and analyze unless you were already an expert. He didn’t try to explain anything so Joe American would understand it better; his litanies were essentially defensive in nature while posing as offensive.  

This was a very distinct ‘technique’ which was used. The truth is that reaching for the gut while turning off the mind is the only play Republicans have, and the true contest in this debate was really between what would prevail - doing things that way or basing the quality of judgement of statements on the actual merit of the ideas being expressed. In my view, the president clearly won this debate based on the merit of his ideas and the rationality of his approach, but he lost the debate based on what technique of influencing people would prevail. The most difficult thing to watch was how rigorously the media, even the liberal media, endorsed style over content as the most important element of the debate. Even Chris Matthews (Hardball With Chris Matthews) said while expressing outrage at Obama’s “poor” performance that the content of Mitt Romney said “didn’t even matter,” because he was able push the moderator around, dominate the emotional tone with a more ranting style, and basically not get called on many of his recent political faux pas.  

By a majority of polling and with a lot of help from media endorsing the psychological style as being virtually the only important thing here, Mitt Romney is actually judged generally as having won this debate even though what he said was so full of smoke, mirrors and distortions that it was at times laughable. You may have noticed watching the debate many ridiculous substitutions of fancy for fact, my favorite of which was stealing the phrase “trickle down” to try to redefine this term as referring to democratic principles and regulation rather than the traditional meaning: concentration of capital in the top and hoping benefits will “trickle down” to the rest of us. But nobody called him on these things. It didn’t even come up. It was all just a foregone conclusion afterwards that the content meant nothing and the style meant everything.  

If emotional manipulation is allowed to prevail as the dominant methodology of communication to the people, then the game is moved farther onto the playing field of conservatives. Since marketing is their business, they will always have the edge in this realm, and by skillful manipulation of people’s emotions, will always endeavor to control public opinion arbitrarily to suit their desires. This is the essence of the battle going on right now and being showcased in the presidential debate. HOW will people’s opinions be affected, by rationality and merit of ideas or by pychological manipulation.