My first experience with debates occurred in junior high school, when I was assigned the indefensible position of arguing for a ban against sex and violence in pop culture. This was a seventh grade class, hormones were on overdrive and the ones who weren’t lucky enough for a Friday night dry hump were glued to Cinemax at exactly 11:35 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
“Sex and violence in movies, TV and music will stunt our development into adults,” I stated, not believing a word of the drivel coming out of my mouth. Neither did the other kids, who cackled as my voice rose and beads of sweat dripped down my forehead like a Pentecostal preacher. And apparently, neither did Hollywood. Just watch any episode of “Game of Thrones.”
It wasn’t going well, and many of the public speaking engagements of my youth did not go well. Nerves, maybe. When things began to deterioriate during this silly debate, I threw reason out the window and banked that emotions could turn my skeptical peers into allies and win the day. And I figured that the louder I spoke, the better my argument: “Because it’s wrong! I know I don’t wanna see that stuff on TV!”
As I got increasingly agitated, my arms flailed like a windmill. On that fall day in Room 201 at South Pasadena Junior High School, it must have felt like friggin’ Holland. I looked for help from my debate partner, a good-for-nothing product of America’s public school system named Jay, who simply shrugged and continued drooling. Thanks dude.
Worst yet, my debate opponents were a couple of my best friends, who shared my affinity for pro wrestling and Toxic Avenger. They watched my meltdown with amusement, and their rebuttal was simple.
“Would you rather watch this,” they said, unrolling a “Beverly Hills Cop” movie poster.
“Or this,” they added, unrolling a “The Wizard of Oz” poster.
“I like the Wizard,” I replied.
The debate moderator was our English teacher, Mr. Smith, who pulled me off stage and saved me from further humiliation. For the rest of the day, kids were talking about how I spazzed out during the student debate all the way through afternoon P.E.
On Monday night, America absorbed a slightly higher grade of rhetorical jiu jitsu when President Obama and Mitt Romney engaged in the last of their three presidential debates leading up to Election Day. I’m no political animal, but I watched these made-for-TV events closely to give us a peek into the kind of men who will lead the Free World.
Are they smart and earnest, with a strategy to exert leadership on the world stage and help the country climb out of a recessionary swamp? Or are they aloof and petty, ready with gotcha questions but offering no solutions of their own? Do they mean what they say and say what they mean? Are they cool under pressure? Or do their arms begin to flail like windmills in Holland?
I hope Monday’s debate is more like the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Their showdown contrasted two distinctly different visions for the country, and they largely did it in a way that didn’t insult our intelligence and degenerate the event into a name-calling fracas. I think Barack and Mitt owe the country this much.
** UPDATED POST-DEBATE **
I overcame my instincts and watched the third presidential debate over “Monday Night Football” and Game 7 of the National League Championship Series (way to blow it, Cards). This debate focused on foreign policy, so I managed to stay awake for this one.
President Obama sounded like a man who has been dealing with defense and foreign policy issues every day for nearly four years, while Mitt Romney sounded like he’s been cramming for an blue book exam at Elliott School. Obama was confident and offered rational arguments for his administration’s decisions on Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and China. In contrast, Romney sounded nervous and tossed around buzz terms instead of building coherent arguments for his positions. How many times did he say he would “build partnerships” and that the U.S. needed a “comprehensive strategy?”
And how many times did Romney say he agreed with one of the president’s policies? Lots.
Romney stepped up his game a little when the topic shifted to China, but he appeared weak when he whined to Bob Schieffer about the president “attacking me personally.” The terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came up early, but Romney failed to make it into a referendum on how Obama views the threats to America around the world. He was probably busy checking off buzz words from his mental “Things to Say at Tonight’s Debate” checklist.
Obama once again used the word “we” when referencing the death of Osama bin Laden. Haters will shake their fists and scream bloody murder about taking credit for that kill; I guess it’s as annoying to me as Paul Bremer triumphantly declaring, “We got him!” when soldiers caught Saddam Hussein years ago. But I digress.
The quote of the night came from Romney, as he was discussing Obama’s counterterrorism strategy of targeting extremist leaders.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” the challenger said.
Maybe because “we need a comprehensive strategy.”