Views from the street— How presidential were candidates?
- Published: October 25, 2012
This past Tuesday, President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney held their second debate at Hofstra University in New York. Although that debate was held as the News was going to press, we asked Yellow Springs residents to weigh in on the first presidential debate held on Oct. 3 in Denver, and the vice presidential debate held in Danville, Ky., on Oct. 11.
Bob Barcus, a Yellow Springs clinical psychologist, offered a candid reaction to the first presidential debate.
“It’s shocking, but not surprising how shallow our impressions and commitments are to the presidential candidates,” he said. “They hinge on things like glib performance. All of a sudden Romney is a genius because he has a good night, personality-wise. He sounds interesting and cool. It’s like Stalin was charming and Ghandi was dull.”
Barcus added that far too much credence is given to telegenic factors.
“It’s not about the exchange of ideas,” he said.
Although Barcus didn’t see the vice presidential debate, he said the headlines preceding that debate illustrated the shallowness of our comprehension of what it takes to be a leader.
“What they wanted to see was for Biden to be feisty — that if he fought back that would mean something,” Barcus said. “But what you do on television, how you debate — although it’s important if you’re trying to sell ideas — that performance alone is not the point. Performance should be judged on how well you communicated your ideas. But the candidates are being judged on style points.”
James Malarkey, 63, who teaches humanities at Antioch University, said he didn’t watch the debates in part because he doesn’t think the major parties are addressing the critical issues of our time.
“I’m just not inspired by what I’m generally seeing,” he said.
However, Malarkey did follow the debate between the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
“Frankly, I liked a lot of what Stein had to say. I liked the vision presented there.”
Malarkey said many of his friends have cautioned him that a vote for either the Green or Libertarian Party candidate is in effect a vote for Mitt Romney.
“So I probably won’t vote for the Green Party candidate, but I’m more interested in ideas that address the problems we’re facing, including climate change, international peace and a lot of the things we’re not resolving.”
Malarkey said that, from his perspective as an educator, the political system as it’s set up doesn’t serve the people or future generations.
“We need much more visionary and courageous leadership than either major party is able to deliver right now,” he said.
Sam Bachtell, a long time Yellow Springs resident, said that in the first presidential debate, it was apparent that President Obama was not fully engaged. However, Bachtell said he enjoyed the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan.
“I think Biden did a great job of coming to grips with some of these wild stories that Paul Ryan was peddling,” Bachtell said
When asked why Obama delivered what many pundits labeled a lackluster performance, Bachtell could only speculate.
“For all we know he may have been involved in some major crisis all day.”
Tony Dallas, 61, a teacher and theater director, said Obama was off his game and not quite ready for Romney’s energy during the Oct. 3 debate.
“I had the sense that Obama doesn’t like to attack people, and that did not work,” Dallas said.
“Obama is obviously in command of all the factual information, but Romney seemed to be changing his positions. Romney’s gone all over the map by trying to make himself seem more palatable by either obfuscation or out and out lies.”
Dallas said Joe Biden performed well in the vice presidential debate.
“All his smiling seemed to me to be saying, ‘Guys this is much too important a point and you’ve got to listen to what [Paul Ryan] is saying because what this guy is saying doesn’t make sense. And the policies they’re advocating are the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.’”
He added that Biden made the case that the lack of security at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya and embassies around the world was at least in part the result of large budget cuts to the State Department — policies proposed by the Republican-controlled congress.
“I get a little bit baffled that Romney appears to the press as being energized and that Biden appears to be condescending.”
Migiwa Orimo, 55, a self-employed artist, said that a viewer’s immediate impression of a particular image in the televised debate might be minor. However, by the next day after repeatedly seeing that image replayed over and over, viewers could easily be swayed by the media’s hype and spin — not what the debate was supposed to be about.
“So it becomes Biden’s smile or any one of those repeated images,” she said.
“I feel that the debates have become something that should be broadcast on ESPN, because that kind of excitement and hype is very similar to a sports event.”
Ralph Keyes, 67, a writer, and an Obama supporter, said that he wished Obama had been more energetic and more willing to blow the whistle on Romney when he was making outrageous statements.
“On the other hand, if you looked at it not so much in terms of content but in terms of presentation — and I’m speaking as a one-time high school debater — Romney was all the things I wish Obama had been: energetic, assertive, and specific in the points he made. And unfortunately the fact was that [Romney] was simply wrong, and in many cases egregiously wrong. The assertions he was making seemed to have gotten lost along the way as we conclude that he was the better presenter of the evening.
“I can imagine if you watched [the debate] with sound off and you saw Romney looking at Obama with that slight smile on his face, very forceful, and then you watched Obama looking down at his papers constantly, not making eye contact and projecting an air of lassitude, for an Obama supporter like myself, it was dismaying.”
And visual impressions do matter.
Keyes noted that in 1960 many people who heard the Kennedy-Nixon debate on the radio thought Nixon had won, whereas people who watched the debate on television thought just the opposite.
“History has proved that the impression on television was the more lasting.”
With regard to the vice presidential debate, Keyes said that overall he likes Joe Biden, including those times when he occasionally stumbles.
“Having said that, he was over the top with all his mocking laughter,” Keyes said. “He was just laughing inappropriately, and I was dismayed at the way he was presenting himself.”
Larry Turyn, a Wright State University mathematics professor, 58, said that in the first presidential debate Obama looked tired.
“It may also be possible that when you’re President of the United States you have to be careful about what you say about anything than when you’re just a candidate,” said Turyn, who generally supports Democratic candidates.
With regard to the vice presidential debate Turyn said he witnessed a lot of back and forth between the two candidates.
“I think the vice president was trying to rattle Ryan some. And I think that in a way Biden succeeded because Ryan came off as pretty cold.”
Turyn felt that Ryan tried to exploit the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“I think [Ryan] was trying to have a gotcha moment on the administration and the vice president with that episode,” Turyn said.
“It was a tragedy, but in terms of everything the country is facing, it was not a tremendously significant event,” he said.
“The main part of the vice presidential debate should have been about Medicare and the Affordable Health Care Act and taxes — who pays more and who pays less.
“I think the vice president was not entirely effective in showing up Ryan,” Turyn said. “And that’s because Ryan really is one of the masterminds of the shifting of tax burdens away from the rich and towards the middle class.”
Pam Conine, 61, a former educator, who taught a citizenship and current issues course at McKinney Middle School, said that as a former high school debater she learned a lot about what goes into an official debate, such as the one held between President Obama and Mitt Romney on Oct. 3.
“So watching it with that frame of reference, by the end of the debate — as far as looking at issues and arguments and rebuttals and the way the debate was framed — I felt that both candidates did equally well,” she said.
Conine said she was surprised the next day to hear that the majority of people who watched the debate thought it went in Romney’s favor.
“But I think that was because people were surprised that Romney had taken such an aggressive stance.” Conine added that the split screen technique that has become the common format in televised presidential debates detracts from what the candidates are actually saying.
While Conine saw the presidential debate as a draw, that was not her conclusion with regard to the vice presidential debate.
“I think Biden did the job he was supposed to do,” she said. “Some people accused him of bullying or mocking or not taking it seriously, but I didn’t feel that way at all. He was supposed to be the bulldog to make up for Obama’s supposedly lackluster performance.”
On the other hand, Conine said Ryan held his own against Biden, in part by playing fast and loose with numbers and statistics and the facts.
For Conine, playing fast and loose with the facts is a symptom of a much bigger problem.
“As a former social studies teacher, I have a hallowed historical respect and appreciation for what our founding fathers created,” Conine said.
“But this current plutocracy and the moneyed interests that manipulate the markets and serve as puppet masters are taking our country in a direction that scares the living daylights out of me.”