Everybody's weighing in on the debate performance Wednesday night. Presumably, it was between Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, although neither man actually showed up on stage. The man claiming to be Mitt Romney looked polished, but contradicted everything that the real Mitt Romney has been saying on the campaign trail. On the other hand, some agents from China apparently kidnapped our president and replaced him with some stammering stand-in who forgot to bring his cue cards. It looks like we'll have to wait for the second debate before either candidate shows up.
Okay, I exaggerate, but not by much. To me, it was as shocking as seeing Shaquille O'Neil being beaten in one-on-one hoops by Pee Wee Herman. But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, because the challenger will always have the advantage in debate preparation. Any challenger has to worry only about debate prep and campaigning, while any incumbent has to worry about debate prep, campaigning, AND running a nation.
There isn't much precedent for this sort of situation, because a true challenger has only faced off against an incumbent in a televised debate twice before. Once was Reagan vs. Carter. The other was Kerry vs. Bush. Clinton vs. Bush doesn't count, because H. Ross Perot was in there as a third candidate, and Carter vs. Ford doesn't count, because Ford was not a true incumbent. (Also, the sound system went out in the middle of the debate.) But in both cases, the more likeable guy won. Reagan was more likeable than Carter, and Bush was more likeable than Kerry. Today, polls show that Obama is more likable than Romney by a huge margin. So, my prediction of an Obama victory is not getting revised today.
The main point I wanted to make here is that winning a debate simply does not determine the truth. It only determines who is better prepared, as well as who happens to be the better public speaker at any given time. We've seen this before. In the Dredd Scott case, the better debate was made the racist, segregationist side. That side was wrong, even though it won. The Catholic radio priest, Charles Coughlin, won most of the debates he had when he supported Hitler's Nazi party, and he was wrong, too. And finally, creationist extraordinnaire Kent Hovind won hundreds of debates against smarter, more educated college professors, despite being a certifiable crackpot. The right side does not always win the debate. The more skillful speaker does.
Kent Hovind is really the perfect example of how a rotten argument can get spin-doctored so skillfully. What could be more ludicrous than a god who made it all in six days flat, and yet can't eliminate down syndrome? Or claiming that all the world's geology came about due to a flood which happened when this god lost a de facto popularity contest, threw a big hissy-fit and killed everybody? Yet for years, Hovind rampaged on, winning debate after debate against ill-prepared college professors who were unused to such a performance artist as he, or against being so bluntly challenged by such silliness. Only the IRS was finally able to shut him up, throwing him in jail for refusing to pay employee payroll taxes.
Now, here we are again. The correct side lost the debate - for now. But the winner of a debate is nothing more than the winner of a debate, and the winner of an argument is nothing more than the more argumentative of the two sides. Truth, as we should all know, has the nasty habit of taking the losing side. Or, more frequently, neither side. The better candidate is one who can run a nation, not win a debate.
I suppose Romney might be able to pull off two more wins, but he won't be able to catch Obama flat-footed again. Even if he does manage two more wins, it shouldn't mean much. He will always be a holy-underwear-wearing Wally Cleaver with a Stepford wife and a penchant for mistreating dogs who wants us to get into his DeLorean and travel back with him to 1955.
I wouldn't vote for that if he out-debated Cicero.