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Television can be a cruel medium – especially to those people who are not photogenic. And in the TV world all too often image is seen as more important than substance or competence, and being before the camera is perhaps not an ideal way to be chosen as a leader in an election. In the context of American presidential elections, “debate” is arguably a misnomer. Granted, these debates are more like staged performances, where the answers to all possible questions have been rehearsed endlessly with teams of coaches and advisers. Unfortunately, the candidates’ performances are scrutinized less on the substance of their arguments than on their presentation, body language, facial expressions, gesticulations and so on. Still these “optics” may be of great importance. After all, Richard Nixon’s race against John Kennedy in 1960 is said to have been lost on television. In 2000, Al Gore, in the debate with George W. Bush, vacillated so much that he seemed indecisive and inauthentic, even appearing arrogant to patronizing. Mr Gore had the better arguments, but he lost the “debates” (and the election) nonetheless. It is being suggested that the current debates between President Barack Obama and the Republican challenger Mitt Romney might decide the election. Again, this is not a question of who has the best policies, or the soundest ideas; it is all about presentation. That’s the modern way of the world. Apart from character, the most important qualification should be ability and experience. It should not be a popularity contest as is relentlessly pursued by some analysts. The matter ought to be who is best able to lead the country in these perilous times. According to a Rasmussen Reports Daily Presidential Tracking Poll late yesterday, Mr Romney would have gone into the presidential debate number two last night with a slight edge over Mr Obama among “likely” voters (49 per cent to 47). Seemingly, the missteps the president made in the first 2012 presidential debate three Wednesday nights ago brought Mr Romney what many determined was a rare turnaround. In the first showdown, “a very close race shifted ever so slightly from narrowly favouring President Obama to narrowly favouring Mitt Romney”, the poll indicated. As NATION readers muse upon this Editorial, Mr Obama may have acquitted himself understandably well; or Mr Romney may have kept putting the image pressure on – or maybe it remains a close call. Whatever, today’s rating will have had much to do with presentation and oration. You may say that with about three weeks or so to go before Americans hit the polls, Mr Obama and Mr Romney will be constrained to keep up appearances. They will gain or lose substantially by it. In the United States presidential debates have become a political convention, notwithstanding the supremacy of image over substance, and promotional glitz over intellectuality. Here in Barbados we will boast our Government-Opposition debates are of a quality of the reverse. May it always be so.