Debates Do Matter

In the wake of President Obama’s poor performance at the first Presidential debate last night, I’ve heard a bunch of my liberal friends say a bunch of irrational things. And, yes, had Romney performed as poorly as President Obama, I am sure many of my conservative friends — maybe even me — would say silly things too.

Facebook contained a multitude of schadenfreude, denial, disbelief and a bunch of other official-sounding psychological terms. It was a good night to be in the social media business.

Some liberal sites featured a tweet from Rob Delaney, a liberal comedian:

“I was gonna vote for [insert candidate] but after watching the debate I’m going to vote for [that exact same candidate.] – Everyone

Along with this tweet, many people suggested “debates don’t matter.”

Wrong. They do matter, or we wouldn’t have them.

First, you mean to tell me that Sarah Palin and her debate performance didn’t do anything to deter undecideds? Because I do recall a few of you telling me “Well, I liked McCain, but after seeing Palin I couldn’t vote for them.” Wait, were these people lying? (Some of them are the same people now on the “debates don’t matter” bandwagon.)

There are still undecideds in this election, and yes, debates matter to some of them. Maybe not all of them, or “Everyone” as Delaney put it, but I can assure you that debates still matter.

Part of the problem is that most of my facebook friend base is hyper-partisan. These people knew who they were voting for even before Romney won the nomination. These are not credible folks when it comes to determining whether debates still matter because they and all of their friends fit their mold of how they think people think.

They are wrong.

For those of you reading this who ever worked in government, ever, please think back to the days when you were taking calls and answering letters and emails. For those of you who’ve never had the privilege of such government servitude, allow me to explain:

Elected officials — like Congressman and Senators — have a staff of 10-50 people in their Washington and local office who answer your letters. Whether they’re form letters, hand written thought felt letters, or the dumbest scrawlings on paper in the history of our country — If you write often — we get to know you. Your letters are logged in a database, so we know your opinions.

For a fair amount of those writers, their opinions change. Sometimes radically and quite frequently.

One day, you’re getting a letter from a nice older lady who has always supported your boss and is happy he voted against the “bad bill.” Two months later, her message is in ALL CAPS WITH NO PUNCTUATION TELLING YOU THAT YOUR BOSS IS LOWER THAN DIRT AND WILL NEVER GET HER VOTE AGAIN BECAUSE THE BOSS VOTED AGAINST SOMETHING SHE DOESN’T FULLY UNDERSTAND.

There are a lot of these people. Debates matter to them because they’re prone to switch their opinion, and frequently.

Debates matter in primaries, too. Ask Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Michele Bachmann, Bill Richardson, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman.

They also matter in general elections.

It’s easy to suggest that debates don’t matter when you’ve already made up your mind and have no intention of changing it.  Which is, well, most of the National Capital Region.

But not everyone is like you.

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