This time we’re not going to tell you who won. It’s a tough call (though instant polls show a slight plurality for Obama). Instead, we’ll give you a few tools. Then you decide.
1. If you didn’t watch it on television, then good. We hope you went to bed early, got a good night’s rest, and dreamed sweet dreams of a better America. Then we hope you got up ridiculously early and watched the debate on the New York Times’s interactive video. It has a scrolling transcript along with the televised debate, along with fact checks as you go. That way you can see who’s exaggerating or just cheerfully lying. (Romney easily scores the most falsity points in this debate, though Obama had a few stretchers as well.)
2. Rate each candidate for phronesis. That’s Aristotle’s “practical wisdom,” the projection of a character who knows his stuff and knows how to apply it reasonably. Both candidates spoke simply and well and used lots of statistics, including highly misleading ones. Unlike last time, Obama managed to avoid saying “Uh” a lot. It made him sound more capable.
3. Score their eunoia. Meaning “disinterested good will.” How much do they seem to care about people? Figaro cringes when politicians try to sound touchy-feely. Last night Obama and Romney were so busy going after each other they seemed to forget the “tender” parts (“tender” is a favorite word of Romney’s). Obama brought up his daughters several times. Romney essentially offered a job to a college student. Neither came across as that terribly, well, tender.
4. Measure their arete. Meaning “virtue,” the candidate’s ability to stand for the values the audience has in common. Virtue tends to bring out participation by the base in each party. That’s because Democratic values differ from Republican ones. Obama talked about his grandfather’s use of the GI Bill and noted pointedly that it “wasn’t a handout.” Romney replied that government doesn’t create jobs. Both are really talking values here—talking directly to their base.
So who won? You decide. Then let us know in the comments below.