Debates cannot determine America’s fate

Many people discount the value of presidential debates, claiming they don’t have a legitimate impact on voters. But just a week after the first debate, former Gov. Mitt Romney is leading in the polls.

Before the debate, he barely had a chance.

A CNN “Poll of Polls” that averaged three national surveys of likely voters has Romney leading President Barack Obama this week. Romney has the support of 48 percent of likely voters while Obama has 47 percent. However, Obama held a consistent lead the past few months, and a Pew Research Center poll from mid-September reflected a 51 to 43 percent advantage for the incumbent.

Election Day is less than a month away. Who are these voters and why haven’t they solidified their opinions? Information about the two candidates’ platforms has always been available, and the record about what we can expect from either party is already set.

Debates become reality, but they don’t change reality. Reality is what has been said and what our officeholders have done. Romney’s campaign was galvanized by his victory at the debate, which speaks more to the ignorance of American voters than the validity or trustworthiness of his remarks.

The fact is, Romney tailors his positions to fit the circumstances. His recent emphasis on stories involving women strikingly contradicts his otherwise steadfast opposition to women’s rights.

“When these people tell you they’re going to reboot a campaign, they don’t just reboot,” Bill Maher said on “Real Time” after the debate. “They erase the hard drive, take it out and smash it with a hammer.”

The number of American citizens who believe Romney “cares” about them doubled after he beat a distant and seemingly unprepared Obama in the first debate. But voters need to step back and ask themselves whether their opinions shifted because of what he said or how he said it.

After all, when the fluff around Romney’s arguments is stripped away, the substance nearly disappears.

It is also worth considering moderator Jim Lehrer’s inability – or unwillingness – to control the debate, which may have played a role in voter perception, too.

The first televised debate aired in 1960, between Sen. John F. Kennedy and then-Vice President Richard Nixon. After a long day of campaigning, Nixon declined makeup before the debate and thus appeared disheveled on camera. The election turned in Kennedy’s favor, which supports the notion that even something as trivial as cosmetics can have a very real impact on how a person votes.

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden will face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night. Then, Romney and Obama will collide twice more on Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. The voting public should consume the debates as a valid measure of the two parties’ beliefs, but not as a perfect indicator of the candidates’ visions in this crucial election.

America’s next four years cannot be decided  in a 90-minute face off.


Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.