President Obama and Mitt Romney had another heated exchange during their final debate. They disagreed, cited facts and anecdotes and challenged one another. They also conveyed certain unspoken messages.
The President came across peeved and patronizing. His conclusion was a hectoring lecture more suited to a Minister of Truth than an American political leader. He was interruptive and even demeaning, sarcastic to the point of being caustic.
Consider his response to Gov. Romney with respect to the importance of the size of our navy: "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
Poor Mitt - guess he never heard of them.
Part of the way I paid my way through college was a debate scholarship. I constructed cases, built arguments and made general verbal hay all up and down the West Coast for four years.
That experience gave me some insight into what moves people and what doesn't.
It is possible to win every point factually, logically and philosophically and still lose a debate. Why? Because winning is more than demonstrating the superiority of one argument over another. It is about persuading, bringing the majority of your audience to your side.
Mitt Romney has been the same man throughout all three debates - no pretense, no acting tricks, no purposeful looks of intensity, contempt or bemusement (of which Mr. Obama has been a vivid study). Whatever his abilities and weaknesses as a communicator, he's real. One has the sense that "maybe" and "perhaps" do not linger in his usual vocabulary.
In an era of nuclear proliferation and a resurgent al-Qaeda, such firmness is welcome.
There are those who have found Mr. Obama's last two debate performances rewarding because he was feisty, accusatory and assertive, at times even indignant (although with a timing that makes his outrage seem practiced).
To some, these things convey strength and confidence, the toughness we need in our president in a dangerous world.
To others (including me), Mr. Obama conveyed arrogance, annoyance and even aggravation that he has to exposit his self-evidently wise and good policies to those (his 314 million fellow citizens, to be more precise) who should be thanking him for them.
Transparent beneficence is offended when called upon to explain itself. This attitude is grounded in the great narrative of many on the Left, the assumption that need not speak its name: Disagree with the cannons of liberal orthodoxy, and you are either intellectually dense or morally evil.
Legitimate disagreement is an oxymoron in the vocabulary of many on the Left; over policy matters even of the most complex nature, one is on the side of the angels (aka, liberalism) or the legions of wickedness (aka, conservativism).
Writing in the middle of the last century, the man who wrote about the "Truth Ministry" in his novel 1984 said, "Almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point."
Orwell was perceptive: Behaving rudely during a debate indicates a strongman's urge to shut an opponent up, not defeat his argument or advance one's own case.
As voters continue to assess the two candidates, they should bear this in mind.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of Family Research Council Action.
Posted on Fri, October 26, 2012