Grunion Gazette - Long Beach

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PINCH OF SALT: Debatable Column On Debates

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012 5:00 am

Bad column timing this week — I’d really like to write about the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but the debate doesn’t happen until after deadline.

It will have taken place by the time you read this, though. So to provide some sort of timely comment, I ought to be talking about what happened.

If I was as electronically up to speed as I ought to be, I’d use Twitter, Facebook and maybe a blog on our website to offer my insights on the debate (I know you’ll be unable to understand what happens if I don’t tell you what it means). In fact, I’ll probably do that very thing on Wednesday night.

But that doesn’t fill this space, now does it?

I could write about great debates of the past, I suppose. I hear tell a couple of guys named Lincoln and Douglas duked it out pretty good. But, despite rumors to the contrary, I wasn’t in the audience for that one.

Most people agree that Richard Nixon lost the presidency when he was forced to debate John F. Kennedy. I was around then, but I was more interested in Lincoln Logs than grainy black and white TV. (Lincoln Logs — what an eerie coincidence, huh?)

I do remember Lyndon Johnson sweating under the television lights and the questions about Vietnam, but that may have been during news conferences. In that day, those became debates, too.

The debate that stands out the most in my mind was between Bill Clinton and George Bush the Elder. Rarely has there been such a masterful use of the outsider versus the insider, or the compassionate common man versus the out-of-touch rich guy.

What’s that you say? Some comparison with this year’s candidates? Well, like I said, I’m writing before they actually debate, so I couldn’t say. No, really, I can’t. Okay, well, maybe you have a point.

Actually, that points out the worst part about debates these days. By the time the candidates get around to debating, it doesn’t seem like there’s much left to find out.

Both candidates have been campaigning for a year or more, under the microscope that is modern media. You could argue that the incumbent has been campaigning for five years, even though he didn’t have to go out and win a primary this time around.

Romney had to dance around his own party, just like every wannabe candidate has to do. And despite the fervent desire for a reset button, all the things he has said and done are out there for the public to see and judge.

Both have offered as much detail as they’re going to offer on policies — which is just about zip. Both have made as many accusations about the opposition as they need to make points. (Obama’s campaign says there won’t be any zingers during the debate, so why watch?)

If there is one thing that politicians today are well-versed in, it is how to talk for two hours without saying anything of substance. If either Obama or Romney actually say something new Wednesday, it will be both big news and a big mistake.

Still, all us political junkie types will be tuned in. It’s sort of like watching a big car race — we don’t really expect to see anything surprising, but we have to see if there’s going to be a crash.

Because crashes are really what political debates are all about. It’s hard to win an election at a debate, but it is so easy to lose one.

Did that happen Wednesday? My Twitter handle is hsalt, as is my Facebook page. I’ll put any news up on the Gazette social media too.

Enjoy the debate.