Ron Fournier called them “two roughnecks,” and observed: ”If it’s civility you seek, you’re sunk.”
He was right. For a few moments during Tuesday night’s debate, the two presidential candidates stood close enough to slug one another.
It wasn’t cerebral — it was primal.
The potential for physical intimidation is one of the many problems with a Town Hall debate format. Candidates are less likely to confront one another when they are positioned behind a podium. (Come to think of it, a “barstool” was appropriate seating for the candidates.)
Perhaps more concerning is that some observers seemed to enjoy the drama — a fact which makes it painfully clear modern politics has descended to full “reality show” status.
Coming on the heels of a weak debate performance in Denver — and amid allegations that Obama isn’t “macho” enough to win Latino voters — some liberals seemed to relish the president’s new-found toughness.
(Gore, of course, may have kicked off the modern trend of debate space invasion when he approached George W. Bush during in an attempt to intimidate him.)
Not everyone sees this as a positive development, but much of the concern is misplaced. Some observers worry about the optics — that such behavior could turn off women voters.
I’m much less concerned about a candidate losing female voters than I am about American politics losing its civility.
American politics has always been rough and tumble (ask Charles Sumner.) Even in our modern age, dominant physical attributes matter (the taller candidate usually wins the presidency.) Still, there is an implicit contract in democracies that we fight with our ideas — with our words — but not with our bodies.
At the risk of sounding overwrought, it strikes me that we could be at the cusp of a dangerous trend. Just last week, for example, a police officer broke up a physical confrontation between two incumbent Members of Congress during a heated debate.
In the movie “Idiocracy,” the president is an ex-pro wrestler. At the rate we’re going, we’re like 10 years away from that — right?