I did not watch the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday. There are two primary reasons for this: I am not a masochist, and the New York Mets were playing in the National League Division Series.* Either one of those reasons would have been sufficient to avoid this debacle, and the two in combination made it a slam dunk decision.
*One may be tempted to sneer that the fact that I am a Mets fan negates my denial of being a masochist, to which I reply . . . Ummm, I’ll get back to you when I have a good retort.
The almost unanimous verdict among pundits all along the political spectrum was that Hillary Clinton was the winner, and it was not particularly close. Clinton was a giant among
midgets dwarves little people Democrats. For two shining hours she even seemed almost, dare it be said, human? Perhaps her crack team of engineers, scientists, data programmers, and other smart people finally managed to work together to develop a chip that imparted something close to a personality. She was in command of the issues, managed to approximate the sound of laughter when appropriate without creeping everyone out, and avoided shrieking at decibels that would have had all neighborhood dogs howling in agony. This miracle of modern technology, working in conjunction with the pathetic opposition she faced*, enabled Clinton to get away with the most brutal assault since Chase Utley was allowed to break the existing rules of baseball in order to break a defenseless Ruben Tejada’s legs.
*By way of comparison, imagine a Republican debate in which Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich all had to skip, and we were left with Donald Trump, Jed Bush, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore. That is essentially what the Democratic field has been reduced to.
So we had every pundit alive tripping over himself (or herself, or xerself, or ximself, or whatever pronoun you’re comfortable with) to declare Hillary the winner. So why is it that every focus group and online poll known to man indicated that Bernie Sanders won, and it wasn’t particularly close? I’ll be the first to admit that online polls are as useful as Joe Torre – just ask President Ron Paul – but almost every sample of actual real live voters who may theoretically vote in the Democrat primary, assuming of course evil Rethuglicans don’t deny them their right by forcing them to show personal identification at the polling place, indicates that Sanders was the real winner. What gives?
This is where I’m supposed to snarkily dismiss the punditocracy of being out of touch establishment shills who are merely zealously working overtime to ensure that Madame Hillary is coronated with minimal effort, and that most of them have their heads shoved so far up their collective posteriors that they have completely lost touch with the common man. And I suppose I’m supposed to make some crack about cocktail parties, and maybe another something or other about shills and the establishment, yada yada.
Well that’s partially right. But let me offer up a slightly less cynical take, or at least one that is cynical in the other direction. The problem with pundits, and I guess I’ll include yours truly in that category, is that we judge these things by completely different criteria than the people these debates are meant to persuade. We’re largely looking for substantive answers delivered in a convincing style. We’re looking for a certain adeptness at thinking on one’s feet, hopefully packaged in a way that is folksy without being condescending.
Now is that what the undecided voter is looking for? Do you think said undecided voter, who is probably that person you wind up in line behind at McDonald’s who spends ten minutes trying to decipher the oh-so-complicated menu before settling on the Big Mac, is carefully scrutinizing the pitch at which a candidate’s
prepackaged lies responses are delivered? Is the type of voter who is reasonably persuaded that it is actually possible to deliver on the magical list of free stuff the Democrats have been promising all night such a reasoned, informed individual that he will deduct points from Bernie Sanders from sounding like an escapee from Bellevue? When Sanders guffaws on stage and says “G-damn” during a presidential debate, do you think that voter is clutching his pearls and tut-tutting the his lack of social etiquette?
I have some bad news for the pundits, and frankly for most of the American public for that matter. There’s really no way to put this delicately, so I’m just going to say it: these debates are principally aimed at the dumbest segment of the American electorate. Oh sure there are at least still some reasonably educated people who may not have settled on a candidate yet, so the undecided segment of the audience for a primary debate might be a little bit better informed than that of a general election one. By and large, though, it is not unfair to wager that most of people who haven’t made up their minds and who are actually trying to gauge their vote on these “debates” are not the sorts of people who as zealously and closely follow politics as the people writing about the debates. Which is to say that the pundit interpretation of what happened on stage during the debate is worth almost nothing if one actually wants to know who really won the debate.