Debate Coverage: Goo-Goo Globe Faults Fistfight Focus

"Character is destiny." -- Heraclitus, pre-Socratic philosopher

Which tells you more about what kind of president a candidate would make:
a. Her positions on the nursing shortage, Social Security and internet decency; or
b. The way she responds under pressure?
I'm guessing that, like me, the great majority of people would opt for "b."

Ah, but the sensitive souls of the Boston Globe editoral board aren't the great majority of people. Their editorial of this morning, "A debate, not a prize fight," is one long vote for 'a.'

Like a strict 19th-century New England schoolmarm, The Globe raps the media's collective knuckles for its focus on the fistfight aspects of Tuesday's Dem debate and its aftermath. Frets the New York Times's AA farm team:
With roughly two months to go before the first votes are cast in the presidential primaries, the candidate debates have taken on a new urgency and substance. But voters would never know it from the pregame hype and postgame analysis of the most recent Democratic debate Tuesday night. Forget Social Security, Iran, immigration, oil prices, Internet decency, nuclear weapons, global warming, government transparency, the nursing shortage, and drug sentencing - all of which were covered in the two-hour debate. Let's just assume the only thing voters want to know is whether Barack Obama landed any punches on Hillary Clinton.

The pugilistic metaphors started before the debate began, with analysts on MSNBC speculating on how aggressive Obama would be in his attacks on Clinton. Obama had telegraphed a new willingness to compete more forcefully with Clinton in a New York Times interview earlier in the week, and the TV personalities were fairly salivating at the prospect that Obama might draw blood.

My favorite line: "Even the usually substantive National Public Radio began the next morning's political chatter with a discussion of whether the candidates 'landed a glove" on Clinton.'"

Oh no! Don't tell me the Globe's favorite radio network descended from its lofty pedestal to join the unseemly fray! Pass that Globe editor the smelling salts.

The editorial ends by primly reminding all that "it is the substance of the candidate exchanges, not the form, that should matter."

Wrong.

Of course substantive positions matter. But in our post-9-11 world, it is precisely a potential leader's form under fire that matters most. The first time Hillary Clinton confronted any real challenge during her otherwise triumphal march to the nomination, she ran off to the friendly confines of her all-women's alma mater to play the gender card.

Heraclitus was right.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.