October 11th, 2012 .

Obama versus Romney

Max Morden

I didn’t watch the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but I certainly heard about it the next day.

I was surprised by the outcome: everyone said that Romney won hands down. I decided to see for myself, but I tried a little experiment first. Before I watched the video, I read the actual transcript of the debate.

From the transcript it was difficult to see what the pundits were talking about. Although there were no zingers, Obama expressed himself well. He spoke in full sentences, with good command of the language. Romney’s sentences were more clipped, and occasionally disjointed. However, Romney used repetition to good effect (ie. the middle class is getting crushed), and he told stories to make him appear more sympathetic (ie. I met a couple in Appleton, Wisconsin, and they said, ‘we’re thinking of dropping our (health) insurance; we can’t afford it’).

On the whole, though, I wouldn’t declare a winner or loser on the basis of the transcript. What really came through was the ideological gulf that separates the two men on the question of how to conduct the nation’s finances.

When I went to the video, though, I could see what people were talking about. Obama was back on his heels. His body language suggested he would rather have been somewhere else. He seemed a little listless at times, and even dispirited. Romney, on the other hand, came across as energized and engaged. He looked like a man on a mission, doing his all to give a good account of himself.

To me the debate was an important reminder: communicating face to face is a very different thing from doing it on paper. On paper the words do all the work; face to face you have a host of communication tactics at hand.

So how should we decide between the two men? On the basis of their words, or on how they deliver them? Or on some combination of the two?  I know how I would decide, but then again I don’t have a vote.


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