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Debate month provides political excitement

October 4, 2012

BY Marty Wiseman

The atmosphere as we move through the month of Presidential debates is more riveting than the Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Championship game combined.

At least that is the case if you are an even marginally engaged political junkie.

What makes these 2012 debates take on this all-or-nothing air? Perhaps it would be instructive to review the circumstances surrounding these concluding events. 

Rarely, in many of our lifetimes at least, has there been a greater choice in basic governing philosophies.  The Republic ticket advocates a governing philosophy almost solely based on the freedom of the individual to make the most of unregulated capitalism while allowing the unfettered free market to determine the winners and losers.  Contrast this with the Democratic ticket, which embraces a governing approach characterized by a combination of regulated capitalism and collective efforts to take some advantage of the avails of the free market economy.

Hence to many, perhaps the majority, the debates will be as much about the choices between two fundamentally different ways of life as they are about the ultimate dominance of one candidate over the other. 

The contrasts between the Republican ticket and the Democratic ticket only begin with these basic philosophies. The approach to the respective campaigns and even the overall strategies themselves could not be more different.  The Romney-Ryan Republican ticket is making the most of enormous contributions to its campaign war chest as well as the record-shattering expenditures by the independent “Super PACs” to overwhelm the media vehicles with advertising. 

The Obama-Biden ticket hardly has a shortage of campaign funds themselves, but their trump card appears to be the tens of thousands of volunteers that comprise the Democratic “boots on the ground” campaign. 
Reports of Democratic Party forces moving into place sound more like the news of troop movements in time of war. For instance, early voting has commenced in Iowa amidst numerous reports of clipboard-toting Obama Democrats heading out into the neighborhoods and cornfields.  The Republican and Democratic Party efforts alike are stitched together by every means of social media in use today. 

Estimates are that perhaps 80 million people tuned in to the first debate. Among this audience were the hoards of ever-vigilant media partisans eagerly waiting to seize on any errant sentence fragment or outright gaffe. These will be the fodder for the spin machines almost from the moment they are uttered. The television watching, radio listening, Twitter tweeting, Facebooking public will hear these sound bites over and over again as the opinion polls pulse with each retelling.

Indeed, the spin began before the debates as Democratic surrogates conceded that candidate Romney was a superior debater at the same time that they allowed as how Romney must go for broke to close the gap that now exists between him and President Obama. They hope to create the impression that anything short of a stellar performance by the Republican ticket will make the task of overtaking the President appear to be a “bridge too far.”

Perhaps the single most important element for either side in the debates will be the oft-spoken demand for “specifics.” It is a word has been repeated a great deal lately, usually with an implied question mark behind it. 

For example, what are the specifics of President Obama’s foreign policy as it pertains to the Middle East in general and specifically with regard to a nuclear-armed Iran? By the same token, many are wondering what are the “specifics” of the Romney-Ryan deficit cutting budget? Will they reveal their plans for eliminating deductions such as those for home mortgages and child care and what will be their plans for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform? 

In both cases answers to these and other demands for the kinds of exactness that have, so far, eluded the waiting public can make or break either of the Presidential candidates. Admittedly, these debates are a political mine field, and any attempt to simply evade the specifics may be equally as damaging as announcing the highly unpopular policy choice. 
The partisan masters of political spin are ready.  If the reader wishes to be entertained by these events he-she should set the television remote control to the liberal-oriented MSNBC and to the conservative Fox News channel.

Interestingly, the viewer will find that interpretations of the debates will get bottled up in these two respective universes, and as one compares and contrasts assessments of the debates it will appear as though they are describing two entirely separate yet simultaneous events. No wonder you and your neighbor cannot figure out why the other could be so completely misguided. 

Still and all, to a political junkie it doesn’t get any better than this.       

Marty Wiseman is director of MSU’s Stennis Institute and professor of political science. Contact him at

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