Tuesday, October 9, 2012

the great debates

In this post we look at two debates. The first is a clip from one of our comedy festival debates. I don't think I've posted it before [probably been a bit wary of doing so] but there is no obligation to click the play button.

The second debate is the first in the U.S. Presidential debate series.


Rubye Jack asked me if I had seen the U.S. Presidential debate and, if so, what did I make of it?

Well, I hadn't seen it. What happens in America affects the rest of the world but, quite simply, if I were an American voter I would be a Democrat. No debate needed.

Reports here said that Obama had performed badly in the debate. "Oh dear," I said to myself, then turned some more pages in the paper to find out what Garfield was up to for the day.

However, following Rubye's enquiry, I duly found a copy on YouTube and the first thing I learned was that it went for 1 hour 31 minutes.

Why did Obama perform badly? I decided to try 30 minutes of the debate and ask myself if, as a speechwriter or campaign manager I had to see where Obama went wrong, what I would find

I was immediately distracted from this goal because what I saw was a very civilised exchange of ideas between two men who both seemed reasonable. Even the one or two sly digs each had at the other were polite and civilised.
Forget 1 hour and 31 minutes - I can't even sit through 1 minute 31 seconds of Question Time in Australia's parliament. Our own reps are rude, puerile, uncivilised, disinterested in any point of view or idea but their own, disrespectful of their office, and contemptuous of the voters of Australia.

Having got over my distraction, I went back to the performances in the U.S. debate.

After 30 minutes it was glaringly obvious why Obama "lost".

Neither Obama or Romney is an orator's bootlace, but perhaps it's unfair to compare them to Martin Luther King Jr, or Gough Whitlam at their best.

In the absence of some classical oratorical style, the next best thing is to follow the quick and nasty rules of corporate speak or advertising.

Romney stood tall. Obama looked stooped.
Obama waffled. Romney
  • said how many points he was going to make [5]; and
  • counted them off as he made them

Numbered points excite listeners who have to filter stuff to take notes, because by numbering points a speaker dictates notes for them. No homework required.

Numbered points suggest the speaker understands the issues, has a clear idea of how many problems there are and how to address them, and has an equal number of answers, and the answers are straightforward and easy to follow.

If Romney scored a goal straight up with his numbered points, he kept the ball in his own goal square by jumping right in with the Joe the Plumber thing. He fought dirty; he personalised issues. He mentioned people he had spoken to, and their situations and concerns.

Obama spoke in sweeping terms of his past achievements. Romney spoke of future plans.

Obama failed to "answer the question" put to him, by disputing Romney's claims about Obama's policy on something or other.

Romney threw in a few more Joe the Plumbers, and mentioned his 5 boys as well. Barack just kept asserting that Romney was going to spend 7 billion dollars. Romney simply denied this assertion, but Obama made the assertion over and over, while failing to supply any information about where the claim could be verified.

Obama spoke of the proven approach of the Clinton administration. Romney said he had new solutions.

Obama kept saying 'middle class', while Romney kept saying 'middle income'.

Most telling, as this was live and edited on the fly, was the number of times we saw Romney "noddies" [2] compared to the number of times we saw Obama's reaction when Romney was speaking [4 or 5].
Obama was not looking at Romney, he wasn't listening, he was jumping ahead in his own mind to what he wanted to say himself. This was really not a good look. Was the editing deliberate? It wasn't helpful.

It might have been low self-esteem or a lack of direction that drove me to it, but I ended up watching the remaining hour of debate. Maybe I was just mesmerised by the sheer civility and reason I was witnessing.

In the last hour, Obama finally got his act together. He engaged with Romney. They both acknowledged the other's good ideas as well as discussing differences. Obama stopped waffling so much and started talking specifics instead of assertions. Towards the end, Obama was itemising points while Romney had dropped the numbered list ploy. Obama finally mentioned a few voters in a personal way.
Romney scored a late goal from 50 metres when he said 42% of Spain's budget goes to government spending - and 42% of America's budget currently goes to government spending.

What is the attention span of a gnat? Sorry, this isn't about me… what is the attention span of an average adult? How much of what one hears can one absorb or retain in one hit?

If people turned off or tuned out or snored after the first half hour, no wonder Obama lost. One hour of a reasonably good performance can't really offset a first half hour of poor performance if people are no longer watching.



A lot of the medicare/ Obamacare debate was utterly lost on me. The USian health insurance system is insane. The idea of health insurance being linked to a specific employer was simply a way of exploiting a loophole in the law during WWII - a way of luring workers from one job to another when wages were fixed. [Don't quote me on that. Don't ever forget I'm slack, or that 87.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot.]

It might have been logical at the time, but it is a ludicrous health insurance system that should have been, and could easily have been rectified, long ago.

In his closing remarks, Romney claimed that it was a great system that has served America well for a very long time - or something to that effect - and that Americans enjoy the best health care in the world.

Infant mortality rates from best to worst
  • White Australia
  • White America
  • Indigenous America
  • Black America
  • Indigenous Australia.

[The last time I looked, Black America's rates were so appalling they were nearly as bad as Indigenous Australia's! Not impressive.]

Life expectancy of Males and Females in White America is marginally worse than White Australia.
[Gosh, this is almost as much fun as Melbourne v Sydney].


Same old federal vs state rights /responsibilities problems as here - with a major difference. The states in Australia first surrendered income taxation rights long ago, and have since surrendered other tax rights. We are suffering federalisation by stealth - the federal/state thing in the U.S. seems far more robust.

Both want to reduce the deficit and reduce taxes without compromising their plans to reduce the deficit. Both want to simplify the tax code.
Wasn't our GST act introduced into Parliament with the title "An Act to Simplify the Tax Act?" or something equally Orwellian?

Romney is totally a state rights man.
The whole state v federal government thing - in an age of private enterprise, and large international corporations, and whether in the U.S. or here, is a topic for another day.

Romney sees the need for government to maintain its existing level of revenue. One way to do this is to reduce income tax rates, while offsetting the revenue loss by reducing available deductions. Sounds like it is effectively the same thing to me.

Obama said he would eliminate tax deductibility for corporations sending jobs offshore. Now there's a sensible idea.
[Don't get me started on all the money Bob Hawke gave to Kodak, or the way Pacific Brands was able to take government money, then send jobs offshore and sell up Australian equipment brought with our money. That's before PB claims the expenses involved in screwing us over.]


To be honest, there is bugger all difference between the parties if one goes by this debate. Both men paid homage to truth, justice, and free enterprise as the American way. They both came across as personally intelligent, capable leaders. Romney certainly doesn't look as scary as Bush Jr.

Yet there is also something surreal about it. Neither of these men seem to bear any connection whatsoever to the loonie nutters we love to laugh at while smugly saying "only in America"… in between outbursts of cowplop back home.

Next in this series we look at the people of America who actually cast the votes.


  1. Thanks for explaining some of what's going on in America to me.

    I'm usually lost.

    I'm like the people you mention. I watched part of the debate; then got bored.

    I did think Romney did better; but it's not like I'm going to switch over to the Republican side now.

    Although actually...I missed the part about healthcare. If I had seen Romney say we have great healthcare; I would have automatically concluded he lost the debate (at least in my book).

    1. I can't imagine that any but the most obsessive desperates sat through the whole thing [myself included!].

      In amongst the YouTube clips delivering the debate in its entirety were sniplets out of context, supposedly proving some tragic point e.g. "why Obama is a socialist".

      With all due respect, America wouldn't know a socialist if one walked up and bit them on the bum while wearing a hat labelled "socialist".

      It was all rather slick as well as civilised, but I'm not sure either of them really said much that was enlightening.

  2. Ask and you shall receive? Thanks FC. I can't believe you watched the whole thing while I watched none of it since I figure what really counts is what the media says about it because they are the ones who truly influence the voters here. I saw clips of Obama and he truly did look rather despondent and I don't understand why because I believe he is the better in all ways of the two men. He was not his usual energetic self that we all love to see bounding up and down stairs, and I'm curious as to what happened but I guess no one knows but Obama and those very close to him.

    I think in real life that Romney is more of a moderate than how he portrays himself to our nuttier side. I suppose he had to be "out there" in order to simply gain the nomination. I find him a bit more interesting than Bush but still perceive him as a very sleazy person.

    1. LOL Rubye - curiosity really did get the better of me. There are more to follow! I think I'll give them a miss.

      Romney is definitely a moderate, but in appealing to middle America - what Obama kept referring to as the middle classes - Obama did not seem very far behind him.

      With his focus on giving States money and responsibility for things like health care, Romney almost sounded like he wanted to use his Presidential powers to reduce the influence of the position - except, of course, with respect to military spending. And it's the military thing I find the scariest.

  3. "if I were an American voter I would be a Democrat. No debate needed."
    Tsk Tsk Scuze I, I expect far more from you. Luckily you corrected yourself with the rest of the post by maintaining your objectivity. No one has a mortgage on good ideas, democrats or republicans.

    "what is the attention span of an average adult?"

    Three. Is the accepted answer, three ideas is all we can absorb, hence why political debates are often reduced to a few major themes, cut/raise taxes, get tough on bludgers/ help the disadvantaged, fight crime etc. The rest is just filling in time before you repeat your slogan again so that it sinks in. eg Mitt is going to spend $7bn we don't have vs Barrack has done nothing for four years.

    "way of luring workers from one job to another" This may be so but it was also sanctioned and encouraged by the govt as it kept the liability for health care off their books. Pensions were in the same bucket.
    US has biggest GDP spend on health and for the majority only average outcomes. For rich folk very good outcomes.

    "An Act to Simplify the Tax Act?"
    Well it may not have worked in the case of Aussie GST but it is a good idea to have a simple system. The US one as I understand it is very complex.

    Just some random thoughts as always

    1. Ha Ha, Big Dog. No one has a monopoly on good ideas is a hard observation to argue with. One of the built in flaws of democracy is that when we vote we have to take the good with the bad - or elect someone who has the least scary basket of proposals.

      From a distance, I can't help equating the Republican Party with the Tea Party's supporters. [Did you know it says in the Bible - in Hebrews - that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ?] My only excuse for declaring myself a probable Democrat is a negative one - that a Tea Party party is not a Democrat one. And as in other countries, the left is probably so divided amongst itself they have hardly any "image" at all.

      A limit of three ideas makes sense, and makes Romney seem long winded with a 5 point plan for the economy. It's also interesting to know the US has a higher GDP spend on health.

      Simplifying the Tax Act [and many others] would be a very good idea. I can't even lift the current Australian CCH Master Tax Guide.

    2. Okay, I'll bite. :)
      Barack Obama is the anti-Christ?

    3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUPMjC9mq5Y&feature=relmfu