Thursday, October 15, 2009

Scoring the Debate


There's several ways to score a debate.  Politicians use their own calculus but we'll try to simplify it a bit.  First, debating has a traditional scoring system and you can score it purely on the points made and how opponents do similarly or fail to respond.  You can also score it on weight of argument, a less calculating method but combining the two is usually our favorite.  In the political world, there are other less mathematical values about likability, horse race impact and other ethereal areas easily spun for hours and hours on end wherever a reporter and a microphone is available.

Sometimes a one liner is the gold standard with its easy repetition garnering laughs over and over again.  Most often though, people don't do any of this type of calculus.  It's usually who they think sounded the most effective talking about their issues, or in a nutshell, who sounded more how they think or feel on the issues.  As that is often a dangerous slippery slope in the practical aspects of governing, it has the most appeal to candidates.  Political operatives will literally spend hours and hours training their candidates on how to convince the majority of the audience they in fact think and feel the same while the candidate commits to nothing and actually has said little of substance.

Two masters of this art became recent Presidents: Bill "feel your pain" Clinton and Barack Obama. In fact Obama ran a whole campaign that way taking the early 20th century 1917 Bolshevik campaign: "Peace, land, bread" and reducing it to just two words, "hope, change."  In doing so, the Obama campaign made Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" re-election campaign look like a three hundred page novel in comparison.

Now that's not a criticism of either man but more a reflection of the overall tenor on debates and campaigns here in the US.  Of course there is the simple problem of what a debate is and yesterday we did not have a debate.  What we had was a group press conference.  Be that as it may, let's try to encapsulate some of the fun and merriment (as there was little) from where we sat in the audience.  We'll score the candidates based on individual performance with a summation on the impact on the race.  That's what you really want right?