By Tom Ford, Daily Free Press Contributor

In the second Presidential debate of 2012, a town hall-format discussion at Hofstra University in New York, a discussion of the economy led Governor Romney to claim that our current economic track is akin to that of the failing European Union. Greece faces an enormous debt crisis, which could inevitably bring down the entire European economy if quick action isn’t taken. That being said, this quote from Romney resonated a bit differently with me.

Greece, arguably, is the birthplace of intellectual debate. The famed philosopher Socrates believed in a method of debate that involved the divulgence of one’s opinion on clearly defined questions. To win such an argument, one not only needed to focus his attention on the matter at hand, but also to present his views in a manner that was conducive to productive discussion. In the time of Socrates and Greece’s Golden Age, a combination of rhetorical skill and decorum was necessary to contending in such a discussion.

Tonight, we witnessed the degradation of the American debate system. In a conversation that centered around important topics such as women’s rights, economic disparity, and the safety of Americans overseas, it was hard not to be distracted by the constant bickering and interruption on the part of both of the candidates. At one point when discussing oil, President Obama and Governor Romney became locked in an exchange where each got five words in at a time, and the American public gained nothing.

There were many points during the debate tonight that had me wondering what the question being answered was. Candidates dodged weaknesses and hammered on the opponent’s views. If I had a dollar for every time that Governor Romney mentioned  President Obama’s “failures,” I’d be in a tax bracket that has something to gain from the Romney/Ryan tax plan.

The Barack Obama of 2008 (or even 2004) was a man who instilled hope in young Americans by employing the rhetoric of a Washington outsider. This time around, I find the President embroiled in more than his fair share of petty arguments that, a lot of the time, lack substance. For those of you that disagree, let me ask this: When has the President brought up gay marriage since his revelation of an “evolution” in his stance? When has he gone an entire speech or debate without demonizing Republicans for the failings of our government? He abandons a passionate discussion of his values for the opportunity to throw in a zinger about the 1 percent or Romney’s wealth.

To borrow a phrase from Mr. Obama, let me be clear: we are at a crossroads in this country. We have arguably not seen such an extreme contempt by either party for the other in decades. Both candidates spent more time tonight speaking negatively of the other’s policies than giving us an idea of what to expect in the next four years from their respective administrations.

When we wake up tomorrow morning, it is likely that we will see a wide spread of opinions on how the debate went. The President came out assertive enough tonight to mobilize his base, they will say. The Governor was able to hold his own when dealing about issues that clearly were not to his advantage, they will say.

If you’re a Republican, you’ll be pleased with how Mitt Romney performed tonight. If you’re a Democrat, you’ll be pleased with how Barack Obama performed tonight. If you’re an American, you should be displeased with the tenor of this campaign, and the direction of American politics in this 2012 campaign.

As for me, I’ll be waiting for the bus to Athens.

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