There's no debate

Presidential stand-offs are the worst kind of reality TV

October 17, 2012|Susan Reimer

Considering my line of work, I bet you think I am watching the presidential debates.

I bet you think I get together with like-minded friends and root for President Barack Obama, or Vice President Joe Biden, and then my friends and I critique, or excuse, their performances while reinforcing each other's opinions.

Well, you would be wrong. I can't bring myself to watch the debates.

First thing the next morning, though, I sign on to Facebook and read the comments there to get an idea of how things went the night before. It is early, I haven't had my tea, and I am not quite ready to know exactly how bad it was.

Soon I will make the trip to the end of the driveway for the newspapers and glimpse the front pages.

"For the President: Punch, Punch and another Punch," reads one headline. "In debate's dance, Romney has more mis-steps," reads another. "Obama takes an aggressive stand."

I turn on the "Today" show and wait for Chuck Todd to recap the previous evening, but the remote is within easy reach. If there is a hint that they are going to replay some ugliness, I push the button.

I should watch these debates, considering what I do for a living, but I don't. I can't. And it isn't because I am afraid my guy will perform poorly, although he apparently did just that in the first one.

No, watching these debates is like watching much of reality television, where people behave badly and are nasty to each other for our entertainment. Like the cat fights on "The Bachelor" or the randy hot tub behavior by the guys on its counterpart.

It is like watching "Big Brother," where people are forced to live under the same roof until one of them cracks and cries and the others swarm. It is like watching "Jersey Shore" or the "Bridezillas." If someone doesn't behave abominably, you feel cheated.

It is like watching "Revenge" — but in this case everybody really is out for revenge, and there are no cozy beach houses.

The presidential debates have never been a high point in an election season, but this year is worse than most, with Fox interviewing some bizarre doctor who said Mr. Biden might have dementia and somebody else saying that Rep. Paul Ryan drank an awful lot of water.


Mr. Obama's somnambulant performance in the first debate was a surprise. Mr. Biden's sarcastic laughter was, too. Mr. Obama coming out like an attack dog in the second debate was not. I read all about it, including the transcripts.

But I didn't see any of it live. I couldn't bear to watch without knowing how it would end. I would have felt like a voyeur, or a rubbernecker, or someone peering in a living room window watching a husband and wife fight.

I need a respectful distance from someone else's embarrassing behavior. Waiting for someone to unravel on live television is just too intense. Watching the debates is like watching the drunken gas bag at the holiday gathering. You'd rather be in the other room when he wrecks the party.

We've been putting too much stock in presidential debates, anyway. Anybody who votes based on debate zingers or gaffes should be denied access to a polling place. But they are what everyone remembers.

Mr. Obama saying, "You're likable enough, Hillary." John McCain referring to Mr. Obama as "that one." Ronald Reagan intoning, "There you go again" to Jimmy Carter. Al Gore sighing. Joe Biden laughing. I predict this year's keeper will be "binders full of women."

I hear President Obama did well on Tuesday night. I hear he was animated and aggressive and invaded Mr. Romney's personal space. I bet one of his handlers told him to do that. I bet he said, "Go after him. Invade his personal space."

That's the other thing about debates. They are like the old "Punch and Judy," shows where the puppets hit each other with broom handles. You just can't see who's holding the strings.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @Susan Reimer on

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