Anyone who thinks our political discourse has become overly reliant on sound bites at the expense of substance would have a hard time denying that Twitter has made this condition markedly worse. The social media mainstay, barely a factor a few election cycles ago, is now the primary means by which people share their thoughts, updates, and opinions on all things political.
Which is why attending Monday’s doubleheader debate—between Colorado United States Senate candidates Mark Udall and Cory Gardner, and gubernatorial foes John Hickenlooper and Bob Beauprez—while also following it on Twitter took on a rather surreal tinge while underlining the first principle of politics (and frankly, of humanity): People hear what they want to hear, and believe what they want to believe, even if they’re listening to the exact same thing.
Sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and held at the Denver Performing Arts Complex’s Seawall Ballroom, each debate lasted about 35 minutes. The mercifully brief exchanges were tightly moderated by Politico.com’s Manu Raju. Given the business-focused sponsors and attendees, the topics stuck primarily to economic issues, along with health care, immigration, and education. This meant there was no mention of abortion, or any other women-focused issues, that have dominated much of both campaigns. Nor were there any questions about Monday’s Supreme Court decision to postpone hearing any same-sex marriage cases, which has given the go-ahead for Colorado’s county clerks to resume issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Instead, all four candidates sparred over their records and mostly rehashed territory that’s been covered in past debates and on the campaign trail. In other words, not much new ground was broken, and the overall effect of the day was to cement the opinions of each candidate’s supporters and detractors.
This was most evident on Twitter. The attending media and staffers were tweeting throughout, as were viewers watching the event on a live online feed, and if you removed the source of each post, even a casual political observer could identify the poster’s allegiance with virtual certainty.
It breaks down roughly like this:
- To his backers, Governor Hickenlooper is a thoughtful consensus builder who engineers exactly the type of bipartisan lawmaking and compromises this swing state wants and needs. To his foes, he’s a regulation-happy wimp who can’t make a tough decision.
- By the same measures, Bob Beauprez is either a no-nonsense conservative standard-bearer and free market champion; or a cranky dinosaur who’s out of touch with modern Colorado.
- Senator Udall is a staunch defender of human rights and the environment; or a hopeless Obama clone, and…
- Representative Gardner is a “new kind” of Republican; or a sheep-clad wolf who refuses to own up to his hyper-conservative voting record.
The takeaway is, if you’re an independent who’s still deciding which way to cast your ballot, Twitter won’t tell you much of anything. Everyone has their own agenda, and everyone spins it to make it more palatable to those who are on the fence. Although no one particularly likes homework, this swing state’s swing voters have little choice but to look beyond the 140 characters and figure out which of these gentlemen is best suited to lead Colorado into the future.
If you just can’t get enough 140-character pseudo-analysis, follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.