The negative general consensus about the debate is summed up tidily in the Times of London's "Gnawingly dull debate won't halt the Obama Tide":
Senator Obama – you may be shocked to hear - promised tax cuts for working people; universal health care, an end to financial deregulation, the winding down of the war in Iraq, a renewed commitment to the war in Afghanistan and an America that is liked by the world. Senator McCain – in case you hadn’t heard – is a Republican who will continue the failed policies of George Bush.
For his part Senator McCain insisted he was – wait for it – a reformer who would reform Washington, end corruption on Wall Street, drill for oil, win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and robustly defend America’s interests. Senator Obama, he gravely reminded the audience, could not be trusted because he didn’t have the experience or the judgment.
Most media outlets, it seems, are peeved at the fact that the candidates strictly stuck to their talking points, despite the fact that doing so mitigates the strength of a debate, making it sanitary and common. It's a reasonable contention; but we've got one question: what campaign has everyone else been following up until now?
Sarah Palin dodged every single question in the VP debate, choosing instead to rattle off prepackaged quotes like she was performing a 10th grade book report. Where was the bored media's ire then? Instead, David Brooks of the New York Times said Palin "held up her end of an energetic debate that gave voters a direct look at two competing philosophies." WTF? What philosophy was that, Brooksy? She gave a shout-out to third graders! Sorry to break it to you, everyone, but our politicians now feel that they are above speaking to us honestly. And you know why they think they can do that? Because we don't really make a big deal out of it when they do, because we sit on our asses and allow columnists in the "paper of record" to call them "direct" when we know damn well that they're anything but.
And is everyone authentically shocked that the presidential candidates rarely veer away from their main points (ie Obama: "I was once poor," McCain: "I'm not a sissy lawyer") anymore? This is the final month before the most important election in decades, one in which the slightest verbal or physical mistake has been uploaded to YouTube instantly. Nobody's going to risk shooting from the hip and ending up with a macaca-gate on their hands—or worse, another Palin-style meltdown about Alaskan airspace. For the next thirty days, Obama and McCain are like spiders: more scared of you than you are of them.
And another thing…
The CNN coverage of the debates, with the charts and the graphs and the viewer response lines? That crap needs to end. Have we really reached a point in our zeitgeist where people can't sit and watch two of the most powerful men in the whole world talk about decisions that will effect billions of dollars and people without video games cluttering the screen? Are we that gone on sugar and Ritalin and cocaine?
By framing the debates in useless nonsense, CNN and their ilk are not only distracting voters from what's being said, they're also distracting them from stuff that's actually important to watch when attempting to discern what kind of person a candidate is, their verbal patterns and subtle physical tics.
It's called paying attention, and it's how millions of Americans at bars every night choose who they're going to do the bonedance with. Why can't everyone apply the same level of interest to two men they really don't want to be cornholed by.