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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Yo, David Broder and the rest of the debate commentators, those dumb-ass boxing metaphors you’re using are leading us astray.

I happen to be a boxing fan and have watched TV with great appreciation for many years as a succession of pudgy guys with Brooklyn accents fired off incredibly rapid-fire barstool-type commentary about “working the body”, “landing more punches”, “getting ahead on points but not scoring the knockout”, “dominating the ring” and so on.
This very distinctive and utterly American mode of sports analysis has evolved gradually over the years in close connection to the evolving rules by which professional boxing matches are conducted and scored. It is intimately tied to the unique way in which strategy, cunning, speed, power, physical endurance and willpower are combined in professional boxing. One can see the unique aspects of professional boxing as a sport and martial art simply by comparing it other martial arts like Muay Tai or MMA that have significantly different techniques and rules.
But what in blazes does any of this have to do with judging a presidential debate? The objective is entirely different – it is to convince viewers that a candidate will do a better job of running the county than his opponent, not that he is superior in a contest of verbal bullying and aggression that metaphorically mirrors physical combat.
Case in point – the notion that Obama’s willingness to say “I agree with you, John” on a number of points represented weakness on his part while McCain’s repeated use of the phrase “what Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand” should be tallied up as points for his side in exactly the same way as points are scored on a scorecard in a Las Vegas middleweight championship.
Usually, there is not enough data to show that this boxing match metaphor misconstrues what ordinary viewers are looking for when they watch a debate. Last night, however, a number of polls and focus groups all converged in their reactions to the debate (see the post below) and clearly indicated that they saw Obama’s refusal to do a “Rush Limbaugh/barroom loudmouth” imitation as positive thing and not negative one.
After all, don’t we really want our candidate to have the self-confidence and the character to calmly agree with the opposition when they happen to be right on an issue rather than insisting that every single word out of an opponent’s mouth must necessarily be boneheaded idiocy? Don’t most middle of the road voters want that too?
So enough with the bad Howard Cosell-Lennix Lewis imitations already. A debate is not a boxing match. It should not be scored as one.
A matter a fact, I gotta tell you Howard, if these commentators guys keep this up, they’re gonna run outta gas in the championship rounds. They’re behind on points and you can see their punches just don’t have any real power behind them any more. The body work they took in the early rounds has done its job and they are starting let their guard fall. They got a big swelling over the left eye that’s probably gonna open up soon and could stop the fight. They are going to have to go for a knockout early in the tenth or the judges are going to take it away from them.

3 comments on “Yo, David Broder and the rest of the debate commentators, those dumb-ass boxing metaphors you’re using are leading us astray.

  1. doxastic on

    As a former debater, the discussion of conceding sameness as a weakness drives me nuts as well.
    The smart debater makes strategic concessions which limits the opponent’s ability to claim ground. It focuses the debate on differences where one feels they have an advantage. As someone who has coached and taught debate to hundreds if not thousands of students, I wish the media commentator class would stop trying to do my job for me.

  2. links on

    Boxing isn’t a sport. It’s two people, usually minorities, beating the crud out of one another so people can bet money. Kind of like bear baiting….

  3. Keneth D. Franks on

    Even the Texas House is in the game. The popular vote will be Democratic. The states are where it is now. We can have a Democratic President next year.
    Kenneth D. Franks
    Democratic Candidate, Texas House District 9:
    Nacogdoches, Shelby, San Augustine Sabine, and Jasper Counties


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