At the Daily Beast, Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, a self-styled "lifelong Democrat" who grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, tells us he's voting for Mitt Romney because of Wednesday night's debate. Bissinger's proclamation makes me a bit less skeptical than I was initially about this op-ed from yesterday's New York Times, based on a study conducted in 2008, which showed a specific physical reaction in men (but not women) to electoral defeat:
... men who had voted for the losing presidential candidate, John McCain, suffered a big drop in their testosterone after hearing of his defeat.If that's true of presidential elections, you'd imagine it's also true of presidential debates, or at least those, like Wednesday's, in which there was an obvious winner. You'd imagine that a man who backed the clear loser in a blowout debate would feel an unwelcome testosterone slide.
The scientists reported that the male McCain voters "felt significantly more controlled, submissive, unhappy and unpleasant." The testosterone effect was "as if they directly engaged head-to-head in a contest for dominance" and lost, one researcher told a reporter when the study was published in 2009. The men who voted for Obama fared better. The researchers speculated that there might be an Obama baby boom.
And, well, here's Buzz Bissinger announcing his support for Romney:
The tipping point was last week's debate in Denver. Romney finally did what he should have done all along instead of his balky cha cha with the old white men of the conservative Republican wing....Admit it, Buzz: you saw two men in a contest, which is something you do for a living, and the idea being a fan of the loser left you -- how do I put this? -- limp. Right?
I have never seen a performance worse than Obama's, distracted, his head dipped into the podium as if avoiding the smell of something rotten, acting above the very idea that a debate does provide a pivotal referendum on his first term as it has for all incumbent presidents, whipsawed by the legion of usual advisers telling him to play defense when his own intuition should have told him that he needed to go on the offensive as Romney slapped him around....
At the debate, Romney did not simply act like he wanted to be president. He wants to be president. He showed vigor, and enthusiasm, and excitement, a man who wants to lead.
I don't want to ascribe Bissinger's change of heart completely to a debate-generated drop in his testosterone. Bissinger has clearly been primed -- maybe his testosterone has been primed? -- by years and years of Fox News/right-wing radio talking points, which he parrots even as he claims not to be a right-winger:
By instinct I still cling to my Democrat roots. But I admit that as I get older, on the cusp of 58, I am moving more to the center or even tweaking right.... I ... am tired of Obama's constant demonization, of those he spits out as "millionaires and billionaires," as pariahs.... millions do not pay such taxes with incomes of more than $50,000, and whether it's as little as $10, every American should contribute both as a patriotic obligation and skin in the game. This is our country, not our country club.(Yeah, America is such a country club for all those non-income-tax-paying Americans who clean toilets for minimum wage.)
Oh, and Al Gore had a beard! (Yes, Bissinger actually gets around to mentioning that. At least he doesn't call him "Algore.")
This is why Fox News and talk radio are dangerous -- not because they appeal to a hard core of wingnut zealots, but because their proselytization to others frequently works. The talking points they relentlessly repeat can generate a sense of tribal solidarity in people just outside the boundaries of the tribe.
Maybe the fact that Fox and the talkers never let up in their fight to the death with Democrats and liberalism simply gives aging white guys like Bissinger a testosterone rush. And maybe that's all it takes to win those guys -- a sense that you've got a band of brothers and you're fighting.