9356 Lessons from the Presidential Debate

Bhaskar Sunkara

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I was almost tempted to write a listicle — but only the most florid of prose could add life to what we saw last night. It was tedious and wonky and probably only served to further confuse undecided voters.

In case you couldn’t tell from my tweets last night, the whole affair drove me to the brink of insanity. But the things that bothered me — the Beltway insider references, the boring technocratic nitpicking over fine distinctions and Mitt Romney’s horribly well-coiffed hair — were all, in a sense, fitting for two candidates of the neoliberal center.

Neither made effective moral and ethical appeals to the viewers. But maybe that was by design. Is it too cynical to think that their statements were meant to target the elites that have the power to decide for us who won the debate”?

And still Obama lost on that count, as well. As my frequent collaborator Peter Frase said last night, He did a bad job convincing the punditry that he was doing a good job talking to ordinary Americans.”

But one thing did stand out last night. Romney became the only presidential candidate in recent memory to mention at a debate that a sixth of Americans live in poverty. As radical as the actual Romney-Ryan agenda is, I saw this one coming.

Ahead in the race, Obama chose the conservative route of not directly challenging Romney on his contempt for poor and working Americans, or his plans to gut the social safety net. The result was telling. If outsiders with no knowledge of American politics were to tune in last night, they would have had a hard time figuring out who was the candidate of the center-left and who was the candidate of the center-right. They would’ve also wasted two hours of their lives.

Romney won the debate. Obama will win the election. And we’ll all be bored to death in the process.

Where’s Joe Biden when you need him?

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Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.
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