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First Presidential Debate 2012: Recap

Obama and Romney finally went head to head! If this election season were a summer blockbuster, last night was supposed to be an epic battle, the scene where our “hero” meets the “villain” for the first time. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t that exciting. No matter what candidate you support, the general reaction to the face-off was, well, underwhelming.

Last night’s debate at the University of Denver between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was designed to last 90 minutes, with 2-minute time blocks for each candidate to answer questions posed by the moderator, Jim Lehrer. Unfortunately, that structure didn’t really hold. Starting at the very first question, both candidates ran over on their allotted time. Lehrer attempted to rein them back in, but was largely unsuccessful.

What’s the problem with that? Without structure, the debate quickly devolved into each candidate talking about their own ideas, why they are right, following tangents back to personal anecdotes, and dropping in less than accurate figures. When asked about the economy, both candidates took turns spiraling off into related, but separate, issues. Of course, hearing candidates talk about their views isn’t a bad thing. The problem is, we’ve already been listening to each candidate spout off their particular brand of rhetoric for months.

Jim Lehrer, when he could manage a word in edgewise, kept reminding the candidates to focus on the differences in their specific strategies. He wanted to hear how exactly they would exact their proposed reforms, and how their specific techniques differed form the proposed ideas of the other candidate. Obama and Romney, though, kept skirting those questions. On the issue of fixing the economy, Romney talked about decreasing spending and bolstering the economy without raising taxes, and mentioned that he intended to reform taxes by cutting out loopholes. But as Obama pointed out, Romney was vague on which loopholes he would close, and how.

A big question after last night’s debate was, “Who won?” Tons of news sources have weighed in on that, many putting forward Romney as the better debater (read CNN‘s recap of Romney’s win), and others (especially the Obama campaign) noting that he distorted the truth more than Obama. I may not have much personal political clout, but I’m going to put it out there: no one won, and especially not America. A good debate is not about sparring, with candidates essentially telling each other that they are wrong. A good debate is intended to inform the country of the differences between the two candidates. That’s what Lehrer kept trying to return to. He wanted both these men to propose their plans for the country to us, the viewers, and allow us to make an informed choice.

Unfortunately, though, if you simply watched the debates, you might not still be informed. While both candidates made some big claims last night, especially about each other’s policies, it turns out a lot of them may be false. The NYTimes debunked some of the major claims, but if you are wondering about the truth of some of the specific lines, there are some great fact checking sites that you can check out. PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer winning site dedicated to gauging the relative truth of statements made by political figures, spent some time debunking some of the biggest myths told by both candidates in last night’s debate. Also check out factcheck.org, another site that is designed to be a nonpartisan source for real facts. If there is an issue you particularly care about, research it on these sites, to see if your candidate spoke the truth about it last night.

But if this election was a movie, we’ve still got about a third of the film to sit through. And that’s where things could all turn around. Earlier I alluded to the idea of hero versus villain, but is that really what we want? Lehrer asked the candidates how they were going to deal with the current amount of partisan deadlock in the country right now. Both candidates promised to deal with it, Romney by citing his past experience, and Obama by promising to care not about party lines but about good ideas. But as we’ve seen, it’s not that easy, and often results in a lot of excessive finger pointing. But it’s something we need to overcome. This idea that the two major political parties are sworn enemies is putting our government in a chokehold, and Lehrer wanted to get at that fact.

There was some good that came out of last night, though. Like any good political issue, you can always turn to the internet for some humor. An off hand comment by Romney about loving Big Bird but still wanting to cut government funding to PBS spawned a number of parody twitter accounts (check out @BlGBlRD). A lot of people had fun with the candidates’ hair styles (check out the hair switch image at the top of this article!). Buzzfeed posted a collection of all the best memes to come out of last evening’s debate. Sometimes if you’re disappointed with the general state of politics in the country, the best thing you can do is laugh!

So what do you think, collegiettes? Weigh in about your reactions to either candidate, the debate as a whole, or your favorite internet meme!

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Julia is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she studied Writing Seminars and Women's Studies. She lives outside of Boston and is a Fall 2012 Editorial Intern at Her Campus. Her favorite activities are writing, drawing, and eating sushi. She also enjoys picking up new hobbies, like photography, and she's trying hard to learn the ukelele!
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