Reason before emotion: Obama vs. Romney


This was billed as an emotion-free evening. The audience had been told not to emote, to maintain silence. This it did, apart from occasional laughter.

This was an opportunity to display one’s power of reasoning; a time for the candidates to present their ‘plans’ to the American people. There was even discussion of a plan by which Americans can enact their constitutional right to pursue happiness. They’ve got plans for everything.

Your plans, however, are what you tell God when you want to make him laugh (this is very old humour). Events, accidents and serendipity—i.e., other people—tend to get in the way. So what is the point of this?

And yet, emotion is always there, beneath the surface in the form of voice inflexion, facial expression and body posture. It is these we judge.

Obama seemed a little weary, his appetite jaded; almost as if he wasn’t sure he wanted another four years as president. When you’re used to stage-managed adoration, it must be difficult to come down to earth for occasions such as this. I think he under-estimated Romney.

He could not resist milking the occasion of his wedding anniversary (‘Sweetie, Happy Anniversary’). Nor could he resist the almost obligatory flattery towards the American people, especially in his concluding remarks. When there is no audience feedback, these rhetorical devices do not work and they gave the impression of being contrived (which they are). But Obama is clearly an intelligent and decent man and he performed well—but not well-enough, I suspect.

Romney was a revelation, in that he wasn’t as bad as we expected him to be. In fact, he was good. He came across like a young Ronald Reagan. The same earnest, but polite, insistent enthusiasm. He was chomping on the bit. He wants to be president, whereas it’s not clear if Obama still does.

When they had finished with reason, emotion joined them on stage in the form of Mrs Romney and Mrs Obama and the evening was declared a success.

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