Living Up to the Hype

The history of presidential debates is replete with dramatic moments etched into our political memory. They require only short-hand references: Nixon’s five-o’clock shadow, Ford liberating Poland, Reagan asking if you’re better off now than four years ago, Bush checking his watch, Gore sighing and Romney’s Etch A Sketch ambush on President Barack Obama, to name a few.

But, to borrow a phrase from the bard, these were moments of sound and fury that signified nothing. The dirty little secret of presidential debates is that they are rarely, if ever, the “game-changing” moments breathlessly hyped at the time and subsequently recalled in the historical imagination.