The talk leading into the first presidential debate amounted to a whole lot of “nothing to see here, folks,” with both sides playing down expectations for their candidate. It was also essential to pooh-pooh the idea that the whole event would change much in the race. Well, we all pretty much knew that would last only until whoever was perceived to have won the debate started feeling the love at the polls. Republican challenger Mitt Romney surely felt that bounce, climbing back into the race, and even jumping into the lead by many accounts, after President Barack Obama’s uncharacteristically poor showing.
So what are expectations going into tonight’s vice presidential debate? The face-off between firebrand conservative Paul Ryan and off-the-cuff master Joe Biden was pointed to as being the real contest to watch before we even got into debate season. Ryan’s confrontational style and Biden’s penchant for doing and saying exactly what’s on his mind — not a political strength in many people’s eyes, but the SNL folks love him — is the recipe for an entertaining (and hey, hopefully informative, right?) evening.
One thing seems certain: No one will come out of the debate tonight regretting that they were “too polite.” Also certain, fact-checkers will be busy. Heck, they’re not even waiting for the debate to start before finding fault with what they assume will be said.
The fact that everyone knows ahead of time what’s going to be said, how the arguments are going to be made, and even what facts are going to be fudged would seem to render the actual significance of the event rather moot. But, to borrow a hoary cliche from the sports world, that’s why they play the game. When the Bears line up against the Packers, everyone knows what the teams are going to do, and which team is favored. Once they get out on the field, however, it comes down to who can execute the best.
Sports cliches are increasingly appropriate for political discussions these days, as each side becomes more entrenched in its views, and allegiance to a particularly party takes on the inflexibility of a rabid fan to a sports team. Face it, no amount of reasoned debate and winning arguments is going to make someone stop rooting for the Yankees, just as much as it would not suddenly compel them to switch their vote for Romney or Obama.
So what is at stake? For the perceived winner, it’ll be a chance for him, his Dawg Pound of voters and accompanying media outlets (e.g., Fox News, MSNBC) to gloat for a few days, until the next gaffe and the next debate. For the oh-so-coveted undecided voters, who are looking more and more like they will decide the election? Perhaps they’ll come away with a better idea of where each candidate stands, and decide which man makes them more comfortable leading the nation. That is the ostensible point of the debate in the first place, right?
The vice-presidential debate — from Centre College in Danville, Ky. — begins at 9pm, and will air on multiple channels.