A Look at the 2nd Presidential Debate

By: Andrew Patterson

The second 2012 Presidential debate held on Tuesday, Oct. 16 was not informative to me in regards to how I will vote. In fact, none of the debates typically are informative, especially at this stage. I imagine this is the same for most voters whose mind is already made up on which candidate they are voting for. And regardless, there is very little in the way of substance ever being delivered by either candidate.

With that said, the debates aren’t totally useless when one views them from a Public Relations perspective. In fact, on a purely rhetorical level they can be quite fascinating. As a PR major, watching the debates from this viewpoint is the only way to justify what would otherwise be time wasted.

I would agree with most that Romney certainly won the first debate, although the media’s portrayal of Obama’s poor performance was arguably exaggerated. The narrative going into the second debate was that Obama was going to have to be more aggressive, something Romney had little problem doing in the first debate. And even though I have general dislike of Romney as a politician, I will surely admit he bettered Obama in the first debate, making the President appear timid in response to Romney’s attacks. For Obama, this isn’t 2008, and this isn’t John McCain. This election is bound to go down to the wire with the still reeling economy. There must be urgency felt in the campaign.

However, the tables turned during Tuesday’s debate. Obama came out on fire. Taking advantage of the town hall set-up, Obama’s body language was far more commanding, as he stood up and debated Romney face to face at times, with both candidates pointing fingers at each other, and neither backing down. This spectacle created an entertaining debate, even though the typical pivoting from issues occurred.

It should be clear to most by now that, although the candidates always try to express great policy differences between each other, there is typically very little detailed policy debate. It’s a lot of speech-making. It’s about conveying an image. It’s about style. For Romney, his goal is to convey himself as less of a cold, heartless businessman, and more of a person who can relate to lower-class voters. For Obama, the goal is trying to convey an image of strength and assertiveness after four years of hope and change that didn’t exactly turn out that way, according to some voters.

Furthermore, one last observation that continually amuses me about these debates is that both candidates both try to call each other liars, but in very nice, indirect ways.  Obviously, calling someone a liar can be a pretty slanderous thing to say which, even if substantiated, still can backfire and be frowned upon by both the media and the public. This is especially the case for Romney. It’s a risky PR move to call the President of the United States a liar, even if his supporters might agree. However, during the debates, both candidates often go back and forth, indirectly calling each other liars about their respective records or policy proposals. A major one was where Obama hammered Romney’s plan that would allegedly raise the deficit by trillions of dollars. Romney would of course respond, claiming that Obama has his plan wrong. And Obama would then retort back that what Romney was saying “simply isn’t true,” as Obama likes to put it. In the end, someone’s got to be a liar here, right?

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