After every debate, there is the inevitable question: Who won? After last week's presidential debate, the general consensus was that Mitt Romney won. Thursday night's vice presidential debate was a lot less clean-cut. But contrasting it to last week's debate, there is one clear winner from last night – the American people.
The idea of “winning” a debate that has no scores, overt goals, or referees is very dubious. Convincing the public you have won after the fact is just as important as actually winning during the debate, if not more so. It seems that these days, half of a candidate's debate performance is on the stage and the other half is in the spin room. With instant “snap polls” being used to gauge voters views as soon as debates are over, the habit of spinning is becoming ever more important.
There is one very glaring flaw with snap polls: they don't allow time for digestion. Debates are supposed to be about large and complicated issues. Debates are generally more intricate than movies and books. However, even to really review a movie or a book, it helps to reflect upon it as opposed to merely turning to your friend as you walk out of the theater and saying “That movie sucked." Often, such a curt and quick reflection upon the movie will lead to further discussion and deeper reflection upon the movie's merits and downfalls. Many times, a few days and a few of those discussions later, one will realize the first impression of the movie wasn't accurate after all.
The idea of snap polls is to facilitate such discussions. Snap polls are supposed to be the immediate, raw reaction of the public to the debate, which are open to revision and correction in the future. However, more and more these snap polls are being used as evidence unto themselves to discredit reflection and thoughtful review.
After the Romney debate (which he undoubtedly won), when arguments were made that perhaps the debate underscored Romney's playfulness with the truth and etch-a-sketch views on the issues in the long term, the discussion always came down to snap polls saying voters liked Romney anyway. Even worse, the emphasis on polls often comes down to truth not mattering in a debate. Snap polls were used as a pile-on immediate narrative to prevent any change from the established discourse.
Luckily, the same thing can't happen with the vice presidential debate. For one, the snap polls didn't have an overwhelming winner or loser. This prevents the post-debate pile-on that inhibits productive reflection. Another boon for post-debate reflection was the actual content of the vide presidential debate. For all Republicans' complaints about Biden's laughs, smirks, and smiles, there were two things that were great for the American people in this debate: it was informative and it was entertaining.
The debate was far from boring. Joe Biden was entertaining as ever; one can easily see why his opponent's feathers would get rustled. But beyond (perhaps even because of) Biden's jimmy-rustling, this was a very substantial debate policy-wise. There were clear demarcations and obvious back-and-forth between the contestants. We will surely hear more about Biden's fib regarding the intelligence failure over Benghazi on 9/11. We will surely hear more about Romney/Ryan wanting to stick with a timeline with no dates in Afghanistan.
For all the talk of Paul Ryan's wonkish-ness, he seemed over-reliant on broad memorized talking points. But once a back-and-forth occurred over said talking points, specifics either began to emerge, or were at least blatantly called for.
So, while many call the debate a tie, it was an overall win for the American people. We got to be entertained and informed. The closeness of the snap polls means that there is a chance we will actually get to reflect upon the debate and form our own opinions before the next presidential debate.
Of course, ties never last long in politics. Already, some are saying the incumbent gets the tie or that Joe Biden already won regardless of polls. Either way, I am sure the public hopes the next presidential debate is more like Thursday night's vice presidential debate and less like the one last Wednesday.