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Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama go at each other during their second campaign debate.
Charlie Neibergall/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 10/18/2012
WASHINGTON--This is presidential? They bicker, interrupt, talk over the moderator.
To some, the Obama-Romney rematch was squirm-inducing. But shedding some dignity probably won't cost the candidates much. Since both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney came out swinging, neither was likely to claim a decisive advantage among viewers who thought the debate smacked of the wrong type of reality TV.
And many backers who were already lined up on the two sides of the superheated race were looking for a scrappy face-off.
"In the world of 'The Real Housewives,' everybody needs to turn over a table from time to time," said Evan Cornog, dean of the Communications School at Hofstra University, where Tuesday night's debate took place. "How good that is for the republic, I don't know."
The presidency isn't a person, it's an institution. And Americans traditionally expect presidents seeking re-election to maintain a certain level of decorum.
Challengers get more leeway but still are expected to pay deference to the office of chief executive, if not to the man. Maybe that tradition is doomed in a conflict-addicted popular culture where even television cooking shows are "throwdowns."
Can the notion of the dignity of office survive the era of flash analysis, when a phrase like "binders full of women" launches a thousand Internet jokes--while the debate is still in progress--and campaigns spin the matchup into attack ads within hours?
The tone of Tuesday's face-off was embraced by Democrats who were dismayed by Obama's dreary performance in the first of this year's three debates. They had urged him to adopt a more aggressive style.
When Obama stepped up to meet Romney's hard-charging persona, the result was a debate that stands out as one of the most rancorous on live TV, especially for an event in which the candidates were fielding earnest questions from everyday folks. Whether that was good or bad, it was exciting to watch.
Romney turned to the president and posed his own accusatory questions, demanding answers. When Romney made a point, Obama would shoot back, "Governor, that's not true." Six times he declared Romney's words "not true."
Maribeth McCarthy of Alexandria said watching the back-and-forth left her wishing that moderator Candy Crowley could bang a giant gong whenever someone fibbed.