Christopher Beam's brief dispatch for the debate exemplifies much of my problem with Slate these days. Depth of analysis, they don't got.
Beam makes the rather inarguable point that the debate was boring, along with the pretty uncontroversial point that boring can be good in comparison to hair-trigger idiotic mud-slinging. He comments that boring is good because, nominally, the evening was heavy on substance.
While substance may be boring (especially to the news media), it is NOT the fact that boredom means you're getting some substance vegetables in your presidential election dinner that you have to finish before you get to the dessert of irresponsible speculation and obsession with personal details. BORING does NOT equal SUBSTANCE!!!!
Is that really all that hard to realize? The fact that they talked a LOT about the issues in excruciating detail doesn't actually mean that they talked about the issues substantively -- the details were puffery, distortions, and contextless factoids. Indeed, I think it was boring largely because they did all they could to not dwell into substance -- despite Lehrer's occasional helpful suggestion of substantive topics, which they talked around such that he returned to his initial question around 5 times subsequently. If you have to say a lot without saying anything, a sure way is to be boring. They didn't tell us their economic strategies (other than "Yes tax cuts" "No on loopholes" "His plan is more expensive" "No, HIS plan is more expensive" "Freeze spending" "Invest in our future and alternative energy" -- nothing I couldn't have guessed or told you about BEFORE the debate). Bland generalities is not wonky, it's politically expedient.
I'm sorry. It just drives me crazy -- the immediate assumption that substance is hard and boring and that's why it's avoided so much by the mainstream news, all the more reason to avoid it in favor of "Gotcha!" news reporting, except for the fact that, at least Christopher Beam, doesn't even seem to understand what substance is. I'll give you an example -- saying that you might meet with Iranian President Ahmedinijad, but might not, as the situation calls for it, is not wonky, substantial, or interesting. Saying, for example, that there is much pro-American feeling in Iran, but far far more anti-intervention feeling, and as such you will be pushing for cultural missions and person-to-person exchanges in return for trade concessions (something I just made up whole cloth and not necessarily suggesting) would be substantial -- it's a plan, with details, that you can then debate. Whether or not Obama's theoretical plan that is only referred to obliquely despite the fact that I doubt the general public is familiar with it is better than John McCain's theoretical plan that is only referred to obliquely despite the fact that I doubt the general public is familiar with it is not vegetables. It's just really, really, REALLY bad tasting fast food. The fact that one would even briefly confuse the two is the most distressing thing I've heard all day.