As the 2012 presidential debates come to a close, I’d like to share a roundup of links that offer a well-rounded perspective on the debates and how they were perceived by different political factions.
These articles are organized chronologically, starting with pre-debate previews and concluding with final analyses.
I’ve also included some brief insights into what’s worth exploring in these pieces.
Before diving into the links, a quick housekeeping note is in order.
I know this feature has been irregular in recent months due to the midterm season at the University of Chicago.
To ensure a more consistent and high-quality output, Debate Night will transition to a monthly schedule, occurring every second Monday starting on November 12.
I look forward to continuing our exploration of the presidential debates that have unfolded during my lifetime.
Without delay, here’s your 2012 presidential debate compilation:
“Slugfest.” by James Fallows in The Atlantic, September 2012.
James Fallows provides an extensive examination of previous presidential debates, shedding light on the candidates’ debating track records, strengths, and weaknesses.
It’s a valuable read both before and after the debates, offering insights into how the debates were anticipated and whether those expectations were met.
For instance, Fallows highlights how Mitt Romney’s past experiences, particularly his 1994 debates against Ted Kennedy, where high expectations worked against him, foreshadowed the “expectations game” played in the 2012 campaign, ultimately leading to Romney’s perceived victory in the first debate.
Fallows also identifies Barack Obama’s successful strategy of provoking Romney into going off-script, a tactic that became evident in the second, more contentious debate.
In retrospect, Fallows points to 1980 as the worst-case scenario for Obama, where the challenger only needed to come across as reasonably presidential and capable of making a substantial impact.
Ronald Reagan’s effective performance in that debate, even without his disarming charm, presented a credible alternative to Jimmy Carter, leading to widespread perceptions of his victory.
Romney seems to have achieved a similar feat, as many post-Denver voters recognized his potential as an effective president and expressed dissatisfaction with Obama’s performance in the first term.
“Obama’s Big Whimper: Four Big Surprises From the Denver Debate.” Michael Medved, The Daily Beast. Oct. 4, 2012.
To gain insights into conservative responses to the debates, especially following their candidate’s triumph in the first debate, Michael Medved, a conservative talk radio host, offers a comprehensive analysis of the Denver debate.
This breakdown not only reveals how conservatives have interpreted race but also provides valuable insights into the contemporary practice of crafting post-debate articles.
To begin with, it’s quite remarkable how astonished Medved appears to be by Romney’s impressive performance.
The article is organized around four “surprises,” each highlighting a different aspect in which Romney excelled.
The renewed enthusiasm on the right can be linked back to this debate, where a candidate once deemed incompetent and potentially disastrous was transformed into a viable contender, which many believed could secure a win against Obama.
It’s worth noting that three out of the four “surprises” demonstrate Romney’s potential to occupy a space in the public image that was traditionally associated with the president, particularly in terms of conciliatory bipartisanship.
This speaks volumes about the strategic direction of the Romney campaign during the debate, which effectively positioned the candidate to the president’s left.
From a structural standpoint (especially for those dedicated to dissecting television criticism), the article, much like many others, follows a pattern similar to what one would expect in a television episode recap.
Medved, alongside countless others, provides a summary of the debate’s events, assuming that the reader has already watched it, and uses this as a platform to present their own interpretation of the debate’s occurrences.
To some extent, these “surprises” in debate analysis, much like in TV criticism, depend on how viewers perceive the objective events of the debate or episode.
“No Guarantee of Obama Rebound in Second Debate.” Nate Silver, The New York Times. Oct. 16, 2012.
This one even features a clip of the most famous moment from the 1992 debates!
In the next segment, Nate Silver employs the historical precedent of George H.W. Bush’s disastrous second debate to draw parallels to Obama’s second debate performance.
Silver’s argument suggests that similar to the 1992 campaign, where Bill Clinton rebounded from a lackluster first debate, Obama is poised for a similar resurgence.
This perspective aligns with recent polling data. What’s noteworthy is how Silver combines specific moments, often subjected to analysis, with historical polling data to form his assessment.
It would be beneficial if more commentators, post-debates, adopted this approach instead of relying solely on instant polls to support their arguments.
The numbers in the aftermath of that debate (and the third one) have strongly indicated a rebound.
Throughout the 2012 debates, the closest instance to a pivotal moment was Romney’s attempt to challenge Obama on his administration’s response to the events in Libya, followed by Candy Crowley’s real-time fact-checking.
While some criticized Crowley’s intervention, the moment resonated positively with those less acquainted with the intricacies of the Obama administration’s response to the Libya crisis.
In fact, the audience at Hofstra even applauded Crowley.
“Obama Wins The Why-Are-We-Debating-This? Debate.” Jonathan Chait, New York. Oct. 22, 2012.
Jon Chait’s analysis of Obama’s victory in the third debate is undeniably accurate regarding substance.
Most counterarguments primarily revolved around criticizing the president’s assertive demeanor, a critique that voters did not appear to endorse.
However, the pivotal point Chait highlights, which reflects the varying viewpoints on the debates, is that Obama never seized his debate wins to assert that Romney was unqualified for the presidency definitively.
The post exhibits foresight, considering that in recent days, the Obama campaign has intensified its character-based criticisms of the Romney campaign’s policy shifts.
The president has even gone as far as accusing Romney of being a “bullshitter.”
Whether this strategy proves effective remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, the recent approach adopted by the Obama campaign, along with the president’s adjustments in the last two debates, suggests that they have heeded the lessons from the debates.
Even if David Axelrod isn’t meticulously reading Jon Chait, it appears that they have arrived at a similar conclusion and taken corresponding actions. After all, isn’t that what pundits hope for?
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