Kadner: Two men vie to become most powerful on Earth
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 2, 2012 5:14PM
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Updated: November 4, 2012 6:19AM
Watch Wednesday night as two men compete to become the most powerful person on the planet!
If presidential debates were promoted like reality TV shows maybe more people would watch.
This debate thing really is important, you know.
Whoever wins the election in November becomes commander of the most powerful military force in the history of the world. He might even make decisions that determine whether you have a job, health insurance and Social Security or if toxic substances will be allowed into your drinking water.
And then there are taxes, which seem to be as important as all of the above issues combined to many folks.
I will watch the debate not only because I feel it’s required by my job, but because recent world events have driven home anew how really unique this event is given the lack of free speech and democracy elsewhere.
That said, I understand why many who watch come away disappointed and others don’t care to watch at all.
Instead of shedding light on the candidates’ philosophies or getting to the core of what makes them tick, such events in recent decades have merely become platforms for the candidates to get their message out.
They will repeat certain key phrases and themes their campaigns want to drive home to specific groups of targeted voters (women, the middle class, independent voters) or even smaller groups of those voters living in certain key states.
Of course, whatever is said won’t matter to most of the people watching because they’ve already made up their minds.
They know which party they support or have identified with a particular candidate.
Put people with such views in a room after a debate and ask them who won and they’ll tell you “my guy.”
The truth is that in most recent presidential debates the candidates haven’t really been trying to persuade their supporters to stay with them or persuade masses of people to switch sides.
They’re looking for something to change the minds of swing voters.
That means two things: Creating the impression the candidate offers something for the target group that the other guy doesn’t and avoiding a disastrous flub.
It’s actually harder to reveal some dramatic program or human characteristic that will convince voters you would make a better president than it is to destroy your chances of getting elected by making an error.
Anyone can misspeak under pressure. Every candidate has done it. Every president has done it.
Yet such a mistake in this setting would be hammered at by political analysts on TV, make headlines in the next day’s newspapers and spread like a virus over YouTube.
It would become part of a campaign commercial played repeatedly leading up to the election.
As important as it is to avoid mistakes, it’s equally important to appear relaxed, jovial and positive.
In fact, looking back on presidential elections in recent history, I would say that Americans almost always opt to elect the candidate who has the most positive attitude.
People like to be told good times are coming. They like to hear that this country is the greatest ever and will become greater still. And they love to see candidates smile.
Ronald Reagan was the guy with the big smile and sales pitch that America could do anything back in 1980. Jimmy Carter was seriously telling people to cut back on their spending, lower their thermostats in January and wear sweaters because bad times were ahead.
President George Bush The First looked all grumpy when he went down to defeat at the hands of happy-go-lucky Bill Clinton.
And it was smiling Barack Obama with his message of change who went home with the election in 2008 over the dour but vastly more experienced John McCain.
Happy is good. Grumpy bad.
I know Mitt Romney’s been pounding away at the message that an economic catastrophe awaits America, but I wouldn’t try to sell that message to potential swing voters.
If he insists, he at least ought to smile when he says it.
The debate at 8 p.m. Wednesday will be on all the major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) as well as on C-Span, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.
Both political parties know better than to debate on a Thursday, Sunday or Monday night when NFL football dominates viewership.
This debate may shape the future of the world but a lot of people in America are more interested in the fate of their fantasy football leagues.
That’s a hard truth that has to confound people in foreign nations that we have bombed and invaded.
As for me, because the first of three debates is focused exclusively on domestic policy (health care, economic policy, the role of the government), I will listen more carefully to Romney than Obama.
I’ve heard the president speak repeatedly on these issues before, and he’s actually created policies that have come under public scrutiny.
I don’t know what Romney’s plan for national health care is or how exactly he would go about cutting government and eliminating, or stabilizing, Social Security and Medicare.
It’s important to listen.
Many people I’ve talked to in recent months claim they had no idea Obama was going to create a national health care plan.
He talked about it repeatedly during 2008. Promised he would do it if elected. And pretty much described how (he opposed a single-payer universal health care plan).
But people who didn’t like the guy didn’t listen to what he was telling them, even though he would someday run the country.
That’s called cognitive dissonance, which is the ability to totally eliminate from your thought process something that disturbs you.
You don’t hear things because you don’t want to hear them.
There are going to be plenty of people telling Americans what to think about the debate after the fact.
Not only newspaper and TV commentators, but bloggers and your friends (through text messages and emails).
Tonight is your chance to make up your own mind.
Of course, you may not think it’s worth the effort.