Substance and Style on View at Debate
Monday night I commented on Facebook that I thought Governor Romney had won the debate. Six women I knew immediately hit “like.” My mind flashed to the often replayed comment by Obama Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter that women are “not really concerned about what’s happened over the last four years, they really want to know what’s going to happen in the next four years.” Although male friends later joined the chorus, the impression stuck with me; the women I know care very much about what has happened over the past four years and jumped at the chance to voice it. And they also want specific information about how the next president will do things differently. Maybe that’s why polls are showing that the gender gap has narrowed significantly this election cycle–women are paying attention as never before.
I try to stay informed on all of the issues but I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of foreign affairs is comparatively weaker than my knowledge of domestic issues. It’s limited to what I’ve gleaned from the Wall Street Journal, The Economist and my own travels abroad. I don’t know as much as I’d like to about trade, treaties, armed conflict, and how best to support our allies. When faced with uncertainty about the particulars, I do lean a little more on my gut reaction.
In general I thought that both candidates offered reasonable justifications for their positions. I knew that Romney needed to distance himself from the Obama Administration’s foreign policy as well as his Republican predecessor President George W. Bush—the nation builder. Romney succeeded in making those distinctions. The President needed to defend his record and criticize his opponent’s plans. He also completed his task.
Where Romney came out ahead was on style. He seem confident and presidential. Some of his statements were downright elegant. When he said, “The mantle of leadership has fallen to America. We didn’t ask for it but it’s an honor we have it,” my mom hit the rewind so we could hear it again. In closing, Romney was so optimistic, he seemed Reaganesque.
The President, by contrast, seemed angry from the start. In between attacks, he glared at his opponent. At times, President Obama seemed, to use my mom’s description, petulant. Then there was the condescension as he presumed to teach the Governor about “these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them…[and] ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.” It was the kind of snide remark that brings back memories of middle school. Thanks a lot.
It was kind of like the time Vice President Joe Biden thought he was at a sports bar but he was really at a televised debate. President Obama seemed to forget the cameras were rolling and that viewers, in particular women like me, were watching. I expected a spirited but respectful debate as the past two have been. Like other women, I pay attention to the facts but I also engage my emotions. I expect participants in a presidential debate to act, shall we say, presidential. Some have criticized the propensity of women to judge candidates through an emotional lens. While emotions alone are not a wise judge, together with reason, they can provide a deeper level of discernment than reason alone. After all, the substance of a speaker’s argument should weigh equally with the substance of his character. While Monday’s debate disclosed little new about the candidates’ positions, it revealed much about the men themselves.