Fired Up

At Last, a Passionate Political Debate!

The rumble at Hofstra was thrilling—a heady blend of testosterone and pedantry. Tunku Varadarajan celebrates the Long Island battle royale.

What a delicious debate that was, and how one wished that Candy Crowley could just wave a magic wand and give us an extra half hour (even if that meant being subjected to a few more of those utterly gormless “uncommitted voters” that they seemed to have in abundance at Hofstra.)

Seldom can testosterone and pedantry have come together in an American political debate in such electrifying marriage. The president, clearly, had heeded his party’s complaint that he was much too supine and passive in the last encounter, and was bouncing off the walls from the outset. The challenger—and let’s call him that, for this was the Thrilla in Hofstra (or the Rumble), so pugilistic were proceedings at times— was no less bellicose. He wagged his finger and got into Obama’s personal space in ways that were reminiscent of Al Gore’s trespassing on Dubya’s “property” all those many moons ago. But unlike on that occasion, when one had to suppress a gasp at Gore’s audacity, Romney’s pushiness was of a piece with Obama’s; and in this almost-schoolyard shouting match—which it was at times, much to the amusement of my 13-year-old—one could not but summon a smile, a chuckle, a flare of great relief: there’s passion, at last, in our politics!

At last, a debate that was a crossing of words, of gestures, of bodies, of flight paths. Neither man was entirely sympathetic, neither entirely off-putting. There were cringe-making moments, for sure: (1) when Romney made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse on the subject of the government’s cluelessness on Benghazi; and (2) when Obama was so obviously faking it in his response on gun control. But who could possibly forget a debate in which one gets to hear Romney say “I appreciate wind jobs in Iowa”; and the president concede that he doesn’t check his pension (this man’s in charge of OUR economy?!); and in which we finally got, in Jeremy the Student, a man to dislodge the tedious Joe the Plumber from our national iconography.

As for Lorena ... or is it Lorraine? ... I’m still not clear what her name is, in spite of Romney attempting it three times and Obama twice. Those were, of course, rare flashes of “empathy”—I have to put that cheesy word in quotes—for so long a dreadful staple of our electoral politics.

Of empathy there was very little tonight. Of China, on the other hand, there was rather a lot. Obama’s foreign policy does not reassure me, but Romney’s threat to declare Beijing a currency manipulator “on Day One” of his presidency is positively scary. Scary, I’m sure, to the Chinese too: I wager they’re voting for Obama, all 1.4 billion of them.

On that question, at least, let’s hope Romney is faking it. For he has much else to offer that is reassuring and presidential. Tonight was a draw. Even-stevens. Deadlock: each side will think their man shaded the other, the surest definition of a stalemate.

Thank God the Chinese don’t have the vote!