Presidential Debates review

The presidential candidates at the first debate in Denver, Colorado.

Micah Osler, print news editor

The four Presidential debates of the 2012 election cycle have yielded an interesting mix of reasonable political discussion, absurd polemical theater, and a plethora of online jokes and references.

The first debate, held on Oct. 3 between incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, featured what commentators described as a tired appearance by the President and a dynamic appeal to undecided voters by Romney, although both seemed more restrained than some predicted. While both tried to swing independents, Romney took a more personal approach while Obama touted his record as President. The debate seemed to have a significant effect on undecided voters according to pollsters, pushing Romney ahead 3.1 percentage points in RealClearPolitics’ national average.

Oct. 11’s second debate, the sole one between vice-presidential nominees Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan, was more lively and fierce than the first. Commentators were unable to decide on a victor, as both candidates seemed to pander to voters already leaning one way or another, but their styles were distinctly different: Ryan was more reserved while Biden seemed more dismissive and uninhibited, occasionally laughing at the Republican nominee.

The next debate, held on Oct. 16 between the presidential candidates, was seen as more even than their previous pairing. While the candidates discussed the same talking points, Obama seemed to redeem himself, responding to Romney’s criticisms more aggressively than in the first debate.

The same seemed to happen in the fourth debate, held Oct. 22. While not as bitterly fought as the previous debate, both candidates seemed aggressive and willing to argue. While there is not currently a consensus on the debate’s winner, Obama continued to recapture ground lost in the critical first debate. Polls seem to reflect this recent resurgence, currently placing the President and Romney’s chances of winning about even.

Beyond their political implications, the debates also served to provide the Internet with fresh material for its fuel-hungry meme machine. From the first debate, a comment from Gov. Romney stating that he would stop federal subsidies for PBS if elected president led to a sudden surge of interest in Big Bird. The second debate gave the Internet an endlessly quotable Joe Biden line – “a bunch of malarkey”. Most recently, a comment from Gov. Romney in the third debate about having “binders full of women” in his office has led to endless variations on the phrase, from both sides of the aisle, and a fourth-debate Obama wisecrack about “horses and bayonets” has taken on a new life on Tumblr and other microblogging sites.