Who won the presidential debates of 2012, you ask? Sure, media and political analysts might be calling it 2 out of 3 wins for Barack Obama… But the real winner this year is the meme.
Put simply, a meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The term was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, but the word has caught on today as Internet memes spread like wildfire.
Political debates have long been known for giving birth to memorable zingers like, Lloyd Bentsen’s “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” or Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.” But in the age of Twitter, a gotcha zinger by itself just isn’t good enough. It needs to be meme-worthy — that is, easy to convert into 140-character Tweets, quippy soundbites, and animated or captioned images (my fave is the post-RNC “I’m with [picture of chair]!“) This debate season has been meme-tastic, so I thought I’d recap the best of them here:
1.) Binders full of women – When the candidates were asked during the second presidential debate how they plan to rectify gender inequality in the workplace, Romney’s answer stole the show (but not in the way he intended). He said his team brought him “binders full of women” so he could find qualified females to serve on his staff. Oops. In about a nanosecond, the Binders Full of Women Tumblr blog and bindersfullofwomen.com had sprung up on the Web. Twitter was set ablaze, and reviews for Avery binders on Amazon would never be the same again.
2.) Horses and bayonets – During the third debate, Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for the Navy having fewer ships than it did in 1917. Where he was going with that, I don’t know — but the President struck back with, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” And with that, an Internet meme was born — the line won Obama the debate, and the phrase became an instant hit (soon after the debate, there were over 105,000 Tweets per minute about #horsesandbayonets). Just for the record, the military does still have some horses and bayonets…
3.) Big Bird – Mitt Romney was on a tear during the first presidential debate, and one of his targets was PBS. Romney said that while he liked PBS, Big Bird and even debate moderator Jim Lehrer, he was going to stop the subsidy to PBS. A slew of angry Big Bird memes ensued, including an official Obama campaign ad (it later got pulled down, though, since Sesame Street is a nonpartisan nonprofit). So who won this meme war? Sorry boys, Sesame Street made out like a bandit with this one — Big Bird costumes are flying off the shelves for Halloween this year.
4.) The 1980s called – The third presidential debate was Obama’s turn to go on a tear, criticizing Romney for being stuck in the Cold War by calling Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” Of course, the president said it with style and sarcasm: “The 1980s called — they’re asking for their foreign policy back.” If you ask me, this meme didn’t get the steam behind it that it deserved (Example: The 1980s called — they want to send you Trapper Keepers full of women…wearing shoulder pads.”) Still, #The1980sCalled was very much a meme of its own.
In the year of the meme, President Obama has been declared the clear winner of the Twitter war — now let’s see how that translates at the polls.