Much like the first debate, Wednesday night’s presidential debate, the second of the election season, drew an audience of more than 65 million viewers. Unlike the first debate, however, Wednesday night featured two men who appeared to be awake. In reality the differences between the first debate and the most recent one are much starker than that. The second debate touched on a few points of foreign policy and also delved into what have become popularly (though somewhat inaccurately) known as women’s issues. It was actually on this general topic where Governor Romney ran into a little trouble in what has for many people been the most memorable line from the debate. When asked about his stance on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed upon taking office, Governor Romney pivoted to his time as governor of Massachusetts. He said basically that when he was elected he had sought out women’s groups to help him find qualified women to fill positions in his administration and they came back to him with “binders full of women”. The awkwardness was compounded the next day when the women’s group Mr. Romney was referring to, known as MassGAP, came forward saying that they had actually approached Mitt Romney to appoint women to senior positions, instead of the other way around. There were certainly some people who were pleasantly surprised to find that the topic of gun violence also found its way onto the stage.
All in all, the second debate was a pretty satisfying affair for Democrats, upset over the President’s lackluster performance in the first match-up. Paul Ryan made the rounds on the early morning talk shows to try and shine the “binders full of women” turd as best he could but also to claim at least partial victory for the top half of his ticket. The general consensus from most of the objective punditry was that the debate was basically a draw. In terms of the substance of the debate, this assessment is probably correct since so very little of the fallout from this debate or from the last one is related to any substantive point of the debate. Recall that when Democrats were tearing their hair out two weeks ago, most of the complaints were for not appearing combative enough or for looking asleep on his feet. Objectively, Romney’s grasp of the information was probably not as good as the President’s but the Governor looked good, basically by appearing to have a pulse, unlike the wax statue standing beside him at the time. Yet, while a rousing or memorable performance will always energize supporters of that particular candidate it seems more and more that the debates specifically, but other political events in general, are putting much more emphasis on style and messaging than on substance and command of the facts.
Indeed, some have become frustrated enough with the debates that they have planned a 3rd party debate. The debate will air on Tuesday, October 23rd at 8 p.m. Central Time and will be hosted by none other than Larry King. The participants will be Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party. The event will be broadcast on Ora TV, an internet video site and will also be streamed live by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation and, for some strange reason, Russia Today. Christina Tobin, the founder and chair of the foundation, released a statement saying
“The previous debates between President Obama and Governor Romney have failed to address the issues that really concern everyday Americans. From foreign policy, to the economy, to taboo subjects like our diminishing civil liberties and the drug war, Americans deserve a real debate, real solutions, and real electoral options”
While even Larry King admitted that none of the participants stood a real chance of winning, it’s important to hear from other groups besides the two major parties. Historically this has been the role of third party candidates in a system that is very hostile to emerging coalitions, smaller third parties would form around a given issue or idea and build enough support that they would eventually start to gain some real attention. Rather than cede any ground to new parties, the Republicans and the Democrats have both taken up issues or stances championed by the smaller parties. No one sees the demise of the two-party system any time in the near future but it’s always important to get information from more than one place. Even though each of the four participants is almost certainly doomed to lose this election, their advocacy, nevertheless, comprises an important voice in our electoral process. I encourage everybody to watch the debate and I will definitely follow up with a reaction to it next week.