I was about 12 years old when I raptly watched the Kennedy/Nixon debate. Sold me on Kennedy, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t until much later than I learned that those who listened to it on the radio mostly thought Nixon had won, while we who saw it on TV saw Kennedy as the clear winner.
More than half a century later, something similar (but different) just occurred. I was listening to the first Obama/Romney debate live while driving between Atlanta and Valdosta the other night, and while it was clear to the ears that Romney had dominated, it was those who SAW it who delivered the overwhelming collective decision that Romney had absolutely CRUSHED his incumbent opponent.
“Déjà vu all over again.”
Watching it subsequently on computer video, I could see the dramatic difference. I could understand why Obama supporters SEEING IT LIVE (not just listening to it at home) were tweeting each other in despair that the President was getting his butt kicked. One pundit said that if it had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight.
As someone who has for a long time done more public speaking than most folks, and engaged in his share of debates, I can only say: CUE THIS FIRST DEBATE UP ON VIDEO, TURN OFF THE SOUND, AND JUST WATCH THE BODY LANGUAGE.
A huge amount of human communication is not just in the words put forth, but in the posture, the stance, the hand gestures, and the facial expressions that accompany it all. Watch it on split screen where you can see each debater react to the other in the same time frame. Romney stays focused on what his opponent is saying, but when Romney speaks, Obama keeps looking downward like a shamed child in the presence of an accusing parent. Obama takes a punch at Romney, and Romney smiles as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” Then Romney takes a punch at Obama, and Obama frowns and all but winces as if to say, “OW! That hurt!”
As you go through the vast trove of pundit commentary, notice how many Obama supporters admit their guy got his butt kicked, and the total absence of Republicans saying the same of their candidate. Notice how many excuses put forth for Obama (the YOUNGER guy couldn’t handle the high altitude lack of oxygen, but the OLDER guy COULD?!?) and that virtually no excuses had to be offered for Romney.
Neither man scored 100%. There were smiles that were taken as insultingly condescending on both sides, but I saw far more of those from the Republican candidate (one reason I can’t give him 100%). I was amazed at how many pundits saw Romney’s frequent smirks positively as patiently tolerant “polite smiles.”
The substance of it? Do the flip side of “watch them in silence” and just read the written transcript, and while you can make arguments on either side, I have to agree with the general consensus that Romney still won. He had done his homework and prepared himself better with facts and figures. Obama had reportedly done his debate prep with John Kerry, which is a little like sparring with Richard Simmons when you’re preparing to fight Muhammad Ali in his prime for the world championship.
We are creatures of inflection. Our confidence and our credibility are reflected in our posture, our facial expressions, and our gestures, not to mention our vocal pace and tone and emphasis.
But, hey…what’s YOUR take on this topic?