Jeff Adair: Who won the debate?

Jeff Adair

Who won the debate? "Which debate?" you ask.

You know, The Debate. That one where he said ABC, and his opponent said XYZ. The one where he talked facts, and she talked about "joe six-pack," "average American families" and "the maverick," whatever the heck that means.

Did you notice how he choked up? And that wink, that smirk, her sing-songy nauseating voice.

The moderator was tough, but kinda biased. She's in the tank for you-know-who, that messiah guy, don't you think? You know, that's what right-wing talk radio yahoos were telling us the day before.

Grading on the curve, I'd give it to...

As a political junkie, I've found myself clicking from one channel to the next to hear what analysts have had to say about the four candidates' performances in the recent VP and presidential debates.

Before they open their mouths, however, I've been able to predict their general opinions.

The politicians are spin doctors. Every now and then, they make a slight criticism, but for the most part they side 100 percent of the time with their guy or gal.

And since most of the pundits on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and the like have an obvious political bent, their opinions tend to be just as predictable.

So who won?

Why, I ask, is it necessary to answer the question? This is not a football or baseball game, a tennis or boxing match, or some other sport where there's always a clear winner or loser.

In presidential debates, there are no rules. There's no point system. No one sets the criteria for how the contest is judged, so how can one really answer that question?

It's all show business. It's like an audition or talent show. Pump facts and figures into the candidate's head, have them practice for hours on end, and if they're good at reciting, if they smile at the right points, if their body language is appropriate, we say that person won.

At some point after the debates I've sat there waiting for Paula to gush over the cute guy, Randy to say, "Yo dog," and Simon to cut to the chase, calling a spade a spade.

Have we come down to this? Are our presidential elections no more than "American Idol," no more than style over substance? Given, we want our president to have good communication skills, especially after eight years of a guy who's had problems tying two sentences together. But isn't knowledge, understanding of the issues, and being able to think on one's feet just as, or even more, important?

I'm very aware of the history. During the first televised debate in 1960, there was a dramatic visual contrast, with Richard Nixon having a "5 o'clock shadow" and John F. Kennedy looking tan and fit.

In substance, historians say, Nixon and Kennedy were much more evenly matched. Those who heard it on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner, but the 70 million who watched television gave Kennedy the nod.

Sometimes I wonder how we've devolved to this, paying more attention to the visual cues, tone of voice and the like, essentially judging a book by its cover.

How did they do it in the olden days? Using today's standards, I wonder whether great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt would have passed muster.

Getting back to the question, who won the debate? It really doesn't matter. As the saying goes, it's all in the eye of the beholder, or to use another cliche, perception is reality.

A warning here: As a poet friend of mine once wrote, every bee holder gets stung.

Jeff Adair is a Daily News editor and writer. He can be reached at