I almost didn’t watch the VP debate because I was tired of watching two people make sport out of dodging questions, but last week’s debate did end up being far more interesting than I’d expected.
And perhaps a little too contentious for some. If the next day’s headlines are any indication, some writers were surprised to find two opposing candidates disagreeing with each other quite so much.
Much of the subsequent press coverage also focused on whether Biden’s behaviour during Ryan’s remarks (scoffing, laughing, interrupting) bordered on churlish — the term "malarkey" did make its first appearance on television since the 1970s after all.
As often happens, the performance was best described by a Saturday Night Live cast member, who quipped: "Congressman Ryan prepared for the debate by studying policy and holding practice debates. And I think Biden prepared by shot-gunning Red Bull and watching Yosemite Sam cartoons."
It’s possible that Biden only looked a bit too animated next to the positively animatronic Ryan, but many commentators opined that more delicate viewers, those that are supposedly weary of partisan bickering (one wonders why such people would tune into a political debate, but anyhoo) would be turned off by Biden’s near-histrionics.
The incumbent VP was very measured, however, in his continued to reference to his opponent as "Congressman Ryan". Rumours abounded before the debate that the Romney campaign had requested debate moderator Martha Raddatz only refer to the Republican as "Mr Ryan", with most reports positing that this was due to Congress’ extremely high disapproval rating (around 80 per cent) with the public.
Old Joe, of course, never missed a chance to remind viewers how his opponent pays the bills…
Even for those who expected Romney to get a bit of a bump following the first presidential debate, the turnaround in the opinion polls last week was pretty remarkable.
Nationwide polls which had started to give Obama as much as a five-point lead over his opponent before the debate suddenly had both candidates on an equal footing. Some even gave Romney a one-point lead.
Encouragingly for the Obama campaign, he more or less maintained his lead in crucial battleground states like Ohio. More encouraging are the early voter figures, which are breaking for Obama in a big way; one Reuters poll puts it in the vicinity of 59-31 for the incumbent.
The reality is that Obama wasn’t really that bad in the debate (or Romney that great), the president was probably just not that entrenched in the lead in the first place.
One also wonders at the actual voting tendencies of a populace which supposedly changes their allegiance because one of the candidates was perceived to have "won" a debate.
As always, the only poll that matters is still to come.
Homeless Big Bird?
If the Internet latched on to one thing from the first presidential debate, it was Romney’s remarks about cutting funding to PBS.
"I’m sorry Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS," he told moderator Jim Lehrer, who has worked for PBS since the 1970s. "I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you too, but I’m going to stop borrowing money from China to pay for things we don’t need."
Jim, to his credit, seemed to let the remark slide, but the Twitterverse had found its cause celebre.
Prominent television scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson quickly tweeted "cutting PBS support (0.012 per cent of budget) to help balance the federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive." Memes soon followed.
In its haste to get in front of the trend, the Obama campaign released a video which mocked Romney’s remarks.
It was not a vintage move for a campaign that needed to recapture its aura of leadership and superiority. Essentially they ignored the first rule of campaign politics: you are the issues you choose. They also ignored the first rule of the internet: don’t feed the trolls. And most importantly, they gave Romney the grand opportunity to look more presidential.
"These are tough times with real serious issues, so you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird," he said.
A foreigner’s impression
Regular readers will know that I recently found a pocket of anti "big government" sentiment while at a business convention in Chicago, and a trip to Indiana last week continued the theme.
"We want a government that will support us, not get in our way," one business manager said to me.
Many business owners and managers regularly talk to me about the "overreaching" of government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety & Health Administration. They also worry that another four years of Obama will have a negative impact on sentiment, that a Romney administration will be better for business primarily because people simply perceive it that way.
Romney hasn’t really had to "pitch" to these voters, of course. Some people are just rusted on. And even though their priorities may not always align with mine, it can be heartening to meet a committed voter in a country where apathy sometimes hold such sway.
Campaign video of the week
Because you can’t go wrong with Morgan Freeman as a narrator.