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Sally Swift

Sally Swift
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
June 14
VP, Repartee
Swift Retorts
sally: a journey, a venture, an expression of feeling, an outburst, a quip, a wisecrack ... me


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OCTOBER 3, 2012 4:19PM

Presidential Debates, Appearance VS Substance

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A little over four years ago Senators Barack Obama and John McCain squared off in a series of presidential debates as historic as the debates between Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy a little over four decades ago. The Nixon-Kennedy debates were the first ever televised, in the format of the times, black and white. The Obama-McCain debate was ironically more historic -- the candidates themselves were Black and White.

Four years later, President Obama will debate former governor Mitt Romney. Less  historic? Maybe. Equally as contentious? Definitely. Will there be dirty tricks during the debates reflecting this increasingly dirty presidential campaign? Doubtful. Except those woven into the "message."

Were there dirty tricks during the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Absolutely.

Nixon-Kennedy Debate Dirt

I have an insider back story on the first Nixon-Kennedy debate. From a highly placed media mogul, a man not prone to hyperbole, much less outright lies. He was in the room, he helped negotiate and orchestrate the debates. And the dirty tricks too.

I was just a kid, so of course I wasn't there. Some have heard this story and believe it to be apocryphal. I heard it from the horse's mouth and from many other Democrats and reporters over the years. I am totally convinced it's true. You decide.

Most historians agree if the first debate had been judged on substance alone, Nixon was the clear winner. Those who listened on radio thought so too. But through the new medium of television, millions of viewers saw more than they heard.

Television watchers loved Jack Kennedy. Dick Nixon gave them the creeps.

We now know that's a more accurate picture than anyone could have imagined. But at the time, it wasn't real. The debate was live, the candidates supposedly appeared on camera just as they did in person. A black and white picture, to be sure, but still, recognizable and clear.

Yet TV viewers were tricked by artifice. Here's what the public saw:

A pale, fidgety Richard Nixon, face sweating profusely, eyes darting, body often slumping, looking pasty, old and clearly uncomfortable. Not a pretty picture. Not much to inspire confidence.

At the other podium youthful, tan, fit Jack Kennedy faced the camera squarely, spoke directly to the people. Poised, calm and dry. The perfect picture of a confident Commander in Chief.

Here's why. My source was a Kennedy man. It was well known Nixon had a pronounced 5 o'clock shadow and tended to sweat a lot. Plus, he'd had recent knee surgery and wasn't feeling well. All of which made Nixon vulnerable to --irony of ironies-- dirty tricks.

My source The Orchestrator instructed station engineers to turn off the air conditioning in the studio. Oh. Yes. He. Did. Small space, big cameras, hot lights. The temperature soared. And Nixon was cooked.

JFK stayed cool and collected. At each break, he got a fresh towel, a dusting of talcum powder and a brand new duplicate shirt, tie and jacket.

Though younger and untested, Kennedy eventually proved to be a man of substance. Just like Barack Obama. So what I want to know is this: when is Obama going to turn the hot lights of intelligence and gravitas on the empty wax figure of Mitt Romney?

I fear too many "undecideds" will watch the debates as Reality TV, tuning out the rhetoric and focusing on the glam factor. Even if they listen, they will hear only what they want to hear. I can get you jobs. I can lower your taxes. I can turn this straw into gold. (Just like the gold I inherited plus took from business special interests). But they won't hear how. At least not from Mr Romney.

For the sake of all of us, I can only hope President Obama has some good tricks up his sleeve to expose Mr Romney for the dangerous, elitest, disconnected, rich guy he is. Or we will never get past the 10-Word Answers to the Meat of the Message, to how we can continue to get the job done.


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All true. Scout's honor. Slightly rebroadcast from 8.08. Who's going to "win"?
The year this most resembles to me is 2000. C-SPAN had the resources to show the debate in alternating close-ups on one channel and as a split screen, always on broadcast on the other. The first one went back to those call-ins they're famous for while the other sent a roving camera with mic on but no "talent" all around the spin room. I'm not the first to suggest Gore lost in the spin room. I'll bet you all those operatives who've been laying low are out in force tonight, and I'll bet you they negotiate "access" to their letting you know what Mitt Romney meant and what Americans know and want.

How I'd love to see Obama's people "just leave the spin room."
A story for every occasion. Romney's still trying to convince voters that he's mostly human.
maybe you should reflect on the idea that this is how the master pro tem of the american military is selected.
oh darn, you had me before you praised Obama. Ugh.

don't feel like either of those people debating tonight offer any hope for any of us and have anything to do with our needs except to bullshit us once every four years.

am old enough to have seen the nixon/kennedy debate or maybe I did only over my parents' shoulders long ago or I was in bed. Can't remember but I remember hearing about it. How interesting Nixon came off better on radio.

I remember in Broadcast News how the wonderful sweat factor was explored with the Albert Brooks character. It was funny but so painful to watch. To have them deliberately sabotage Nixon does seem so down and dirty.

Did you know Karl Rove had a candidate he was helping who was behind. So Rove had an FBI friend plant a bug in Rove's office just before the election, and then pretended to discover it and accused the competing candidate of planting it -- had a big press conference expressing outrage and before the dust settled, the smoke cleared from Rove's slanderous arson, Rove's candidate had won.

I see and hear about the dirty tricks now pulled on Jill Stein who could mop the floor with both present candidates in a debate but corporate media won't let her out of the gate so to speak, won't utter the name Stein or Green Party, there is no real serious invitation to have participatory democracy any more or a national conversation about real issues and real and humane solutions. We have a corporate-captured fascistic government and both of the legacy parties are corrupt beyond belife, the money/war party candidates are pimped out and front men for oligarchy. 99%ers are left to eat the crumbs of their cake, microscopic crumbs.

Jim Lehrer is part of the crony apparatus at this time. I like him to a degree as a newsman but newshour is now totally corporate-captured and watching it I have to supply the subtext by getting most of the truth elsewhere, propaganda is increasing. Leher has sold out, like Charlie Rose so easily and cravenly has, such is the enmeshment of cronyism and the DC culture of values erosion and soul selling for security and access.

My take.

best, libby
I hope he can too, Sally. Romney is talking as I type this. He sounds just like the film-flam man in that broadway show. This guy can tell a lie with the straightest face. It's astonishing.
The Music Man. Couldn't remember.
They both did fine, Romney got everything he wanted to tonight,it is now a dogfight. Not sure how anyone can see how Obama talked in that video and could call Romney the flim-flam man out of the two. I thought both did well. Obama did not close the deal thus, Romney is now highly viable
Unfortunately, Rmoney won the debate because he's a much better liar. Talk about gift wrapping a turd! Romney has obviously spent all his time for the last several days polishing his non-verbal communication to a high gloss. It doesn't make any difference that 95% of what he had to say was total BS if not an outright like.

Obama looked scattered and hesitant. My wife said that maybe he didn't want to be there because it was his anniversary. Maybe the POTUS is actually dealing with some heavy foreign policy shit that the commoners are not privy to know about right now. That's the feeling I get from looking around the world. Syria is beginning to look a lot hotter than people may think it is, so who knows what Obama has been wrestling with?

In the meantime, if you believe in television or undecided voters, it will certainly mean that the race for the White House will be tightening up in the next few days.

And we all know how good that will be for mass media's advertising revenue.
Not a good night for Obama. Too many voters will judge on manner and performance and Romney came out much better than Obama did by that measure. The primary experience is bound to have helped. Did you see how InTrade now has Obama at 68%? A couple of days ago it was 80%.
Welcome aboard, no matter your party or political views.
Stacey, Gore lost for too many reasons to list here. By the time they got to the spin room, it was over.

Stim, rich guys who can't relate to the common citizen are robots.

al, it might be the hour but I don't understand.

libby, your take is as valid as mine. I'm a Hillary girl through and through, but a get a more honest and honerable read from Obama than from Romney.

Candy, couldn't agree more. Unfortunately flim flam attracts those who don't have the patience to dig down.

Jay, no question Romney did himself a lot of good. Not sure how comfortable, i.e. knowledeable he'll be on the next topics.

lefty, it ain't over yet. Obama needs to come up with more legitimate zingers directed at the rich running the country to appeal to the undesideds.

Abrawang, what I just said to lefty.

QUESTION: Did anybody watch the Wesr Wing video? NEXT QUESTION: WhereTH are all my peeps? I really do seem to be invisible. NOTE: I'm not!
No doubt it's hard to win a debate with a practiced sociopathic liar -- whether his name is Richard Nixon or Mitt Romney. When your opponent's every claim is based on lies and distortions, it's hard to call him on all them without violating the old adage to never argue with a fool because those watching may be hard-pressed to tell which is which.
Television is a tool for propaganda. More than any other medium, even those that have come after it, it, and its habitual viewers, are the perfect drug/junkie combo for the propaganda and misinformation monkey on all our backs.

I took the 1960 debate test (listened, then watched and listened). Personally, I don't know how you can call either a winner. They were barely distinguishable from one another.

In the end, despite the fact that JFK did the same think to MLK that Nixon was doing to anyone he could catch at The Watergate Hotel, Nixon is known as a crook and Kennedy a shining knight.

Nixon's economic policies in '68 were of much greater assistance to the working class than those that JFK instituted in '60. Nixon gave us the EPA and kept the peace with the nation that would have lost us the Cold War (if there was truly a winner and a loser, I suppose), China.

Kennedy gave some memorable speeches and had a hot wife whom he emotionally abused, and Nixon is infamous and Kennedy, despite actually being one of the worst presidents of the 20th Century, is remember as being one of the best.

Obama has continued, nearly in lockstep, with the policies of his predecessor, policies which were, and continue to be, ruinous to this country, and you demonize his opponent both this election, as well as the one he participated in 4 years ago.

I think the air conditioning is still off, and I think that because you don't know the person who turned it off this time, you have no idea what effect it is having on you.

Thanks for including a clip from the NBC liberal fantasy circle jerk off, The West Wing, though.

MUST SEE TV, right? (excuse me, but I just puked a little bit in the back of my throat. You go ahead, though...and, I loved your post until you got to the Obama part...really, I did...)
If you were honest your sociopath list might include Clinton and definitely Al Gore. Gore gained 80 lbs and grew a beard after he lost his birthright promised by daddy. Never heard Romney described as such even though I know people that worked for him at Bain and with him on the Hill and never did that come up describing the guy.
Fascinating piece, Sally. I admit, I have no idea how anyone can be an "undecided" voter in this election. ~r
Horrible, horrible night for Obama...and it has little to do with the fact that Romney was telling lies. All candidates tell lies.

Obama was unprepared and rusty. He looked as though he wanted to be somewhere else. It was a great move to take possession of the word "Obamacare", but that was almost the only thing good on his side of the line.

Romney did what he had to do...and he did it well.

This race is far from over...and all the people certain that Obama will sweep into a second term better think that over again and again, because giving the Oval Office over to the Republicans is a disaster for our country and the world.
whoa! Oh how I wished he'd turned on the heat last night!
They are both elitists. The best schools , we just get to see Romney's grades and his record of achievement after . Obama's are worth 12 million and counting, made on books that apparently few have read.
"Maybe the POTUS is actually dealing with some heavy foreign policy shit that the commoners are not privy to know about right now."

Romney is getting all the briefings so they both have the same problems.

The Obama problem can be summed up my saying he missed his telepromptor proving that if someone isn't writing it for him to read he doesn't have a clue what to say. That is why he picks places to go where he can be "eye candy" or get asked about his underwear. Let's face it. Romney ask questions and used numbers from the CBO and Obama didn't have a clue how to answer just like when he got asked how much the nation debt was on late night TV.
I kept waiting for Romney's pants to catch on fire It would have been helpful if the President could say "can we roll that tape now?" and show what Romney has been saying during the campaign. Was there not drug testing, I thought Romney was on speed? Next time can we have a high school debate coach as moderator? Jim Lehrer let Romney bully him. The President was too polite.
Nixon wasn't a senator - he was the vice president at the time of the debates. I also heard the story about the AC system on Hardball with Chris Matthews a few nights ago - I guess you guys have the same source.
I believe that story, and I recall hearing it in the past. Certainly, the Kennedy's were never ones to shy away from tricks that could work to their good.

As for the substance of the debates, they have really become vapid exercises in how best to spew talking points tailored to your audience -- in this case the middle of the road undecideds. Both of them. Will the debates sway anyone? Maybe. But I'll bet those who still haven't made up their minds are just as likely not to show up on election day at all.
Kate, my bad, corrected now. I didn't see that Chris Mathews show, but I've said the story's pretty common knowledge by now.

Tom, you're so right, sociopaths make the smoothest, most believable liars.

Malcolm, you should write your own post.

Joan, I think the last election was all about emotion and "change." This one is about money. Obama got the youth and minority vote, plus most of Hillary's supporters. This time people are believing any outrageous claim that makes them feel better.

Frank, we totally agree.

Jon, thank you!

Catnlion, you nailed a feeling I had that I couldn't put my finger on... TelePrompTer!

LSD, Lehrer and Obama let us down. Dangerously.
I've never been able to watch presidential debates; too much posturing, too many lies. I went to bed very early last night, pulling the covers over my head literally and figuratively. I appreciate this: "I can only hope President Obama has some good tricks up his sleeve to expose Mr Romney for the dangerous, elitist, disconnected, rich guy he is." Me too!
I wrote an article here at OpenSalon arguing why I believe this debate was a travesty -- focusing on a critical fact that most of the public doesn't know about presidential debates (not mentioned above):
I believe you, and most interesting, but I think that the next debate will take more than air-conditioning for Obama to win: He's got to get a bit more hot under the collar and lots less cool, if you ask me.
I believe it. Dirty tricks are as old as politics.
About this story. It's not apocryphal, but it is hyperbolic. What are now being termed dirty tricks were simply different levels of preparedness by either team. When the heat was turned up, the heat was turned up for everyone. Kennedy's team had wardrobe changes on hand. Nixon's team didn't. Kennedy's team brought in a make-up artist. Nixon thought that wearing makeup was sissy and didn't want to do it and then, at the last minute, they sent someone out to the nearest drug store to get some pancake. Kennedy shaved right before the debate. Nixon didn't. Kennedy had been coached and rehearsed. So was Nixon. Kennedy's prep team did a better job. Kennedy looked directly at the cameras. Nixon didn't. But there was an underlying issue of unfairness here: Kennedy was photogenic. The camera loved him. Nixon looks like a weasel, and he knew that, hence his discomfort with looking directly into the camera. This story has been around for years. I heard it at ABC in the late sixties. My point is that these weren't dirty tricks. They were simply good staff work versus bad staff work.

Note to Jay: Sorry, buddy, but Romney meets the qualifications for diagnosis as a psychopath. If he weren't rich and well protected, life would be very different for him than it is now. Throughout the debate, he demonstrated two psychopathic tendencies, the refusal to abide by generally accepted rules of order, and the imputation to others of things not said and not in evidence as though established fact. In short, he makes up his own facts....and I was stunned to hear him throw that very accusation at Obama.

If I had been Obama, I would have done one of two things. I would have gotten into Romney's face and shouted him down....or I would have stood there staring at Romney without saying a word. Either would have cracked Romney like an egg. They hate being contradicted and they hate being ignored.

Obama didn't do those things because he was a afraid of being accused of debating while being black.

Race was the unspoken issue last night. Obama couldn't slap Romney down without being branded as rude by the racists, so he had to stand there and let Romney be rude to him.
Who knows.

I think Obama was too inexperienced when he was first time elected. Still he seems to be.

I was quite sure still yesterday that Obama would win easily. But his bad performance in tv made me a bit doubtful. Still I think he will win, but not so easily.

Obama's performance has been pretty bad as the president... but Romney... maybe he would be even worse.

I think tv debates are just rubbish. They didn't debate about any real matters, it was just a show.
I watched the video. Obama would be doing far better if he had Aaron Sorkin working for him.