While I agree with pretty much everything Scott has to say in his posts below, I think Obama was atrocious last night. I have no expectations of any presidential debate covering the issues I want to see covered, but that was the worst of Obama circa 2009–playing the centrist lecturer who allows his opponents to set the tone of the debate through outright lies that he seems unwilling or uninterested in attacking. How you don’t bring up Bain or the 47% video or anything that has actually worked in this campaign is beyond me.
On the other hand, is there any somewhat empirical evidence (understanding that no political knowledge is fully empirical despite the claims of some) that a presidential debate has ever actually mattered in the final result? I know the conventional wisdom is that it mattered in 1960, but is that myth or is there any data that gives solidity to this claim? I honestly don’t know and thought it might be worth exploring.
As for worries that talking over Jim Lehrer was the end of public discourse, as I saw a couple of people on Twitter say last night, allow me to say the idea of politics as a genteel game where respect for form and opponent is valued is something very tied to the space and place of early television in the 50s and early 60s. Far more typical is Andrew Jackson’s supporters accusing John Quincy Adams of pimping for the czar while ambassador, Republican candidates waving the bloody shirt as late as 1896, etc. And while I’d be happy attacking the party of white supremacy for treason too, the idea of the Republicans doing this at a time when they had no ideas except for plutocracy and, well, white supremacy was a bit rich.