These days, it seems like debate watching isn't such a social thing. We sit in living rooms with our family and friends, perhaps, or watch it alone and cast our thoughts out onto Facebook threads and Twitter feeds. So, what would it be like to watch it in a darkened movie theater with a bunch of complete strangers?
Tuesday night, I set out for the debate-watching party at The Texas Theatre, hosted by the Stonewall Democrats, a group of "politically active" LGBT advocates. What followed was by turns hilarious, obnoxious, raucous and, at all times, deeply entertaining.
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The debate was lively, was it not? President Barack Obama and GOP challenger/former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney traded some substantive shots on foreign policy. When Obama spoke, cheering and applause invariably followed. There was no greater crowd reaction than to his "horses and bayonets" zinger. When Romney spoke, he got jeers and repeated requests to "shut the fuck up." A man a few rows behind me, who sounded drunk, carried on his own belligerent, running dialogue with Romney, challenging point after mendacious point, as Romney struggled to create daylight between his and Obama's Iran policy.
For my money, the best moment of the night came when moderator Bob Schieffer asked Obama how he would respond to one of Romney's assertions. I don't even remember the question, because someone in the audience shouted reflexively, "Punch him!"
How we laughed.
I wondered what sort of chaos would transpire if this crowd was mingled with a debate-watching party at, say, Highland Park Village? Fisticuffs and flying beer/merlot would almost certainly roil the theater, which is as it should be. This was naked politics in the town square; bloodsport in the Roman Colosseum, writ contemporary. This is the American discourse, folks. Thus has it always been, and thus shall it ever be. And as I stumbled across debate watchers, sloshing my beer in the darkened aisle, I loved every goddamn minute of it.