As the interest and hype started to build around the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I decided to conduct a little experiment based on the mythology of sorts surrounding the very first televised presidential debate: which had been between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
Famously, in that particular debate, the general opinion is that Nixon came across far better than his younger rival did as far as those listening via radio were concerned: but people who watched the televised debate, on the other hand, came away with the opposite perception.
It suggested that while Nixon may have sounded more appealing or convincing, Kennedy came across much better when you saw the two men stood on a stage (Kennedy won that election – in case you didn’t know that: however, Kennedy got shot in the face and Nixon got to hang out with David Frost, so I’m not sure who really won in the end).
So I decided I would avoid the televised coverage and listen to the Clinton/Trump debate on the radio instead: to see who would sound better, sound more convincing and seem to have the more potent arguments. Given that I already pretty much despise both candidates, I figured I might as well take it all lightly.
Interestingly, listening to the radio coverage, it was Hillary who came across better.
She sounded more composed and presidential: and even if she was lying through her teeth on a number of points, the fact is that she sounded like someone who had her act together. Trump, on the other hand, often sounded flustered, struggled with vocabulary (as he often does) and often mis-worded his sentences and failed to properly make the points he was trying to make.
Clinton sounded more convincing on the economy. Trump should’ve been able to sound way better than Hillary on foreign policy – given Hillary’s monstrous track record – but didn’t quite capitalise on that better hand as effectively as he should have.
However, when he did accuse Hillary of having overseen the birth and rise of ‘ISIS’, Hillary looked hopeless and simply accused him of lying, and then muttered something along the lines of ‘you should read my book and look at my website – all the facts are there‘.
Trump could’ve absolutely crucified her on that subject, but seemed to not do so. Instead, he fixated on why America should’ve fully stolen all the Iraqi oil – which completely undermined the high ground he should’ve had and made him sound like Dick Cheney‘s drinking buddy.
When I later caught some of the television coverage, things changed a little.
Now that I could look at the two candidates, it seemed like Trump – as bumbling and misfiring as he often is – had an air of sincerity about him that Hillary lacked. He looked like someone who knew what he wanted to say, but wasn’t very good at saying it in the most coherent or potent ways.
But he looked like someone with conviction, at least (which isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself: after all, you can have total conviction in a misguided idea).
Hillary, on the other hand, looked like an actress playing a part (albeit, a very wooden actress playing a very tedious part): a consummate professional, but with no substance or real conviction.
It also became clear from body language and facial expressions that she was bitter towards her opponent and intent on going on the attack from the outset: Trump, on the other hand, seemed more tired and fed up of Hillary Clinton than vindictive.
Her attacks on him were more personal: his on her were more political and based on her record.
Trump seemed like someone who was misguided or wrong about a number of things, and right about a few other things: but too inarticulate and heavy handed to properly accentuate his positives. Hillary, on the other hand, didn’t seem right or wrong about anything at all, but came across like a stand-in android perfectly programmed with all the correct poise, tone and expression; but essentially possessing no real substance or conviction other than to make sure the other guy looked bad.
Watching these two choices trying to sell themselves – essentially an idiot celebrity and a Sith Lord – I started to wonder if most Americans would happily take either John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon over either of these two.
Is there a lesson to be extracted from all this?
Just perhaps that – as Nixon/Kennedy already demonstrated – there are differences between hearing and seeing the candidates. This is probably made all the more so by the fact so much of their dialogue was hot air and pantomime: which makes radio very difficult to glean anything from, whereas at least on television you could glean a lot from faces.
It is clear, anyhow, that there is no ‘winning’ for the American people in this presidential election, no matter the outcome: whichever candidate they end up with, they have essentially lost already.
Which, for someone like me watching with a certain detachment, makes what comes now little more than a crude pantomime depicting the moral decline of the American political system.