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Why That Crappy Presidential Debate Won't Change Anyone's Mind

With only a sliver of the electorate undecided on its candidate, the 2012 debates are not about persuading voters.

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@MittRomney just DM-d me. He told me if I don't shut my beak, he's going to tie me to the roof of his car. =( #Debates

And one called Silent Jim Lehrer began tweeting such gems as: "...I...so, I...guys.. ."

Then there was the racial dog whistle when Romney, accusing the president of lying, employed the B-word (not that one) after Obama asserted that what's known of the Romney tax plan would raise taxes on middle class people. "I’ve got five boys, Romney said. "I’m used to people saying something over and over so I’ll believe it."

It was an especially audacious claim when one considers that if this race were to be settled by a truthometer set on Wednesday's debate, Romney would lose not just big, but huge.

But Romney also felt compelled not to present himself as the " severely conservative" former governor he's been telling the right-wing base he is, so he made a big show of talking about how he passed health-care reform -- anathema to the base -- in a bipartisan manner, working with a Democratic legislature. He then blamed Obama for passing his own health-care bill without Republican votes.

Did anybody care to mention the fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared as his number one goal not the passage of legislation, but that of making sure Barack Obama was a one-term president? No. Not the president, not the moderator.

The best Obama had to offer was this: "I agree that the Democratic legislators in Massachusetts might have given some advice to Republicans in Congress about how to cooperate..."

Do lies matter?

To their credit, mainstream media have created a whole new sub-industry of fact-checking speeches and debates, but it obviously doesn't matter. Why else would Mitt Romney conclude that a winning strategy is to repeat lies that multiple fact-checkers have concluded as such? This, after all, is candidate whose pollster, Neil Newhouse, told reporters, "We’re not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

To wit, Romney's lie about Medicare cuts, which has been debunked by just about every fact-checking shop out there, was repeated by the candidate himself in the debate even after the president debunked it.

Which is not to say that Obama campaign is always pure. But when measuring pure mendacity, Romney is the clear sinner. Just look at CNN's fact-checks of the Denver debate. Of the five claims CNN fact-checked, Romney was found to untruthful in all, while Obama was found to be spinning a bit on his claim that Romney would rank Donald Trump as a small business.

This is the same CNN whose snap poll found Obama to have lost the debate by a wide margin.

In his book, The Political Brain, neuroscientist Drew Westen offered proof that voters make their decisions regarding candidates based on emotions, not facts. 

Mitt Romney and his campaign operatives have apparently decided that the easiest way to manipulate those emotions is to lie. The task for Obama, then, is to speak to those emotions without lying. To do that, he'll have to talk about values, about the story of America as he sees it, and not just a statistic-laden laundry list of policies.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing: If you want to win, you can't let the other guy walk all over you.

 

 

 

Adele M. Stan is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in covering the intersection of religion and politics. She is RH Reality Check's senior Washington correspondent.

 
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