In a nation as symmetrically divided by its internal politics as ours, the modern presidential debate is intended to do three things: Own the chattering-class media narrative for the next week or two, inflame the passion of partisans, and finally (not to mention most crucially) sway the opinion of those Americans who haven’t bothered to rub the sticks together inside their minds that will allow them to figure out who they want to vote for.
It was probably at this point that my interest in following politics went from sincere interest to something far more craven and black-hearted. I think most politically engaged people have undergone a similarly soul-shriveling realization. You’re not following politics, not anymore; you’re learning the black art of subtly inflicted mnemonics. So you stop listening to what our politicians say and instead start calculating the moron-response factor: How will this play on Main Street? This is the polite, Candy Crowley way of admitting that citizens who can’t be bothered to figure out their own core convictions are now in the socially calamitous position of determining our great nation’s fate.