Loren Ipsum: My Review of the First Presidential Debate

Last night, I took a break from my extended vacation away from, other than Twitter, anything related to the U.S. presidential campaign. I used 90 minutes of my life that I won’t get back to watch the first Presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

I avoided the punditry (other than Twitter) before or after the debate, but spent a few moments skimming through the tsunami of analysis earlier this morning. Apparently, the people who cover the day-by-day, slogging through each appearance, minutia of the campaign, have agreed upon this narrative:   Romney won because he was energetic and lively. Obama, on the other hand, was stiff and hesitant and seemed bored (although he never glanced at his watch). Frankly, to me, it seemed like what a tea party would be if the only guests were Bill Gates and Al Gore.

Romney supporters are rejoicing. Obama supporters are either: 1. Disappointed in Obama, or 2. Trying to argue that “Romney’s [fill in the blank]” is what is important, not his style. But deep down, Obama fans are disappointed like, say, when fans of Apple discover that the company is capable of releasing a product as bad as the company’s iPhone Maps app. That’s supposed to be Obama’s strong suit, the disappointed supporter would say.

Having avoided all campaign coverage and punditry to this point (except, as I’ve noted, Twitter, and, I’ll confess to reading about actual “issues,” like healthcare reform), I found nearly 80% of the words being said by the candidates to be complete gibberish. The remaining 20% of the words were sad stories that began like this: “Last week I met Jane, a mother of 2.3 children who lives in a tightly-contested county in Ohio, who said to me…”

In other words, the words used by both candidates in the debate last night were indecipherable to anyone not obsessed with things only important inside-the-beltway.

Without the ability to discern any meaning from the words, the pundits and those watching the debate were left with little else to react to but the style of the candidates. So Romney won because he was energetic and Obama lost because he sounded like a Ph.D. candidate in a political science symposium.

In the design world, when we want to convey a visual idea that includes text, the designer knows the person he or she is sharing the idea with — even if it’s another designer — will start reading the text instead of focusing on the style or formatting idea.

To avoid this, designers have learned it is better to use random letters lined up and arranged like words and sentences, but completely without meaning. (A bit like this blog, some might say.) The gibberish “sentences” and “paragraphs” are called “greeking,” as is the phrase, “it’s Greek to me.” The most used “greeking” text starts off with the non-words, but Latin sounding, “Loren Ipsum.” (That link goes to the Loren Ipsum Wikipedia entry where you can learn all about the history of a block of text that is supposed to mean nothing.)

Try reading the transcript of the debate last night and look for anything substantive, without a bunch of acronyms or platitudes, or something other than a wonk might care about. From that list, remove anything incomprehensible to a voter in some county in Ohio who’s actually going to elect the next president.

You’ll discover there is nothing left that is not a cliché like, “I love small businesses.”

Or, as a great pundit I once knew, wrote, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam vehicula consequat mauris a sodales. Etiam pharetra augue suscipit orci tempor ut tempus nisl dignissim.”