Karen Heller: The debates are over. Now what?

Posted: October 25, 2012

Really, is that all there is? With two weeks to go, is it all over but the voting? (OK, based on the ferocity of robocalls and solicitations for non-super PAC funds that my household is receiving, maybe not.)

Perhaps, like me, you are experiencing some form of debate withdrawal, not quite delirium tremens but close. Folks, there were 27 primary debates! True, I am prone to exaggeration, but here I do not.

There were so many oratorical rumbles that K-Tel could produce a Debatin' to the Oldies Collection, Volumes I and II. It would include Rick Perry's crowd-pleasing, campaign-demolishing moment from Nov. 9, 2011 (nearing its one-year anniversary!) of "Uh Uh Uh ... Don't Tell Me," the Texas governor's plan to eliminate Commerce, Education, and a federal department he couldn't remember.

But that was not all! Then we arrived at the Final Four, a movable feast of verbal enmity, three prez and a veep, like The Voice but in dark suits and rep ties, zero hair extensions, tats, or tricked-out Captain Kirk chairs, though the last might have kept Jim Lehrer and President Obama awake in Denver. Remember Denver? So long ago and yet so close, the night that gave Republicans hope and Democrats despair.

These were the first presidential forums enabled by Twitter and enhanced by drinking games. They gave rise to #drinkandtweets, iPhone in one hand and iPinot in the other, creating pithy aper├žus and instantly embraced memes sometimes characterized by creative grammar and orthography.

Due to the mashup of two autumn holidays, Halloween and Election Day, debate memes have art students everywhere rejoicing as they make costumes inspired by #SaveBigBird, #bindersfullofwomen, and #horsesandbayonets. Personally, I'm hoping to see at least one Woodrow Wilson waving the Naval Act of 1916.

(As for the feathered creature that Mitt Romney wants to terminate Trump-style, I'm sorry to report that "Sexy Big Bird" costumes are available. This development demonstrates that manufacturers can tart up anything for Halloween because nothing says "trick or treat" quite like a yellow plumed nightie and striped stockings. Sesame Street has sent a cease-and-desist letter to stop the costume's sale, possibly with the hopes of stemming bad taste. The economy must be in better shape if people have $54.99 to waste.)

Anyway, there are no more debates! I became so fond of them that I gave up theater tickets to watch one and endured severe Twitter withdrawal when I found myself on a long-scheduled flight during the veepstakes and, for once, a certain regionally dominant air carrier left on time.

True, there are more polls to come, but they make for meager event television. Try tweeting to them! No poetry at all, difficult to create hashtag magic. Polls make people extremely anxious. Know how the Cold War and Richard Nixon used to make us nervous? Now, we have polls.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver is the rock star of polling analysts, an oxymoron if ever there was one. He reports of polls, "There was a remarkable number of them, 15, released Monday. Pretty much every pollster with a pulse weighed in." Fifteen polls in one day? Further signs the economy is rebounding. Who says America doesn't make anything anymore? We make pollsters and robocalls. Now I worry that the election industrial complex that will cease to function Nov. 7, Florida and Ohio willing, threatening to melt the Earth to its core.

What have we learned? That two men who really, really don't like each other - have you ever seen Obama glare at anyone the way he looks at Romney? - can repeatedly draw more than 65 million viewers. That, even without the unexplainable phenomenon that is Sarah Palin, more than 51 million Americans will tune in to a vice presidential debate to watch Paul Ryan rehydrate and Joe Biden expose his incisors. That the split screen is unforgiving and if the president acts bored, superior and listless, then, yes, 90 minutes can undo years of work, millions of dollars' worth of ads, and so many, many polls.

With the debates done, the election almost at hand, greedy Ohio continuing to lap up the attention, what will we watch and tweet and meme together now?


Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.

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