The US Presidential Debate Domestic Policy Drinking Game

A fun way to enjoy the first presidential debate.

Obviously, the New Statesman doesn't advocate drinking in your place of work, or at all. (It also disapproves of dancing, and "that modern music".) You might perhaps enjoy this game with lemonade or water, or a refreshing iced tea. Over to Nicky:

As has become traditional, both parties are downplaying their chances of victory before debate night tonight. Romney has the easier job of this one. Obama's intimidating skills as a rhetorician helped him against McCain when he was an upstart candidate, but he needs to be careful; low expectations of Romney might trip the president up. He has to be amazing to maintain expectations, while all Romney has to do is not screw up to exceed them. That said, Romney is trailing in the polls, so he might go for broke tonight, which would be deeply entertaining – but if he doesn't try anything crazy, here's the New Statesman's Domestic Policy Debate Drinking Game to play.

The rules:

First, choose your candidate – or try to play with both if you haven't got work tomorrow.

There are several keywords to start you off: take a big swig when you hear them from your candidate. Romney's drink-on-hearing words are “deficit”, “gas prices” and “debt”. Obama's are “General Motors”, “college tuition”, and “investment.”

Both will be talking about “jobs” an awful lot, so this should only be a drink-word if you want to get really, seriously drunk.

A few set-pieces next: these are for everyone. Any time either candidate tells an anecdote in which they met someone specific, everyone must shout “Joe the Plumber!” and finish their drinks.

Any mention of the secret video filmed of Mitt Romney earlier this year – even a hint at its contents – everyone must down just over half of their remaining drinks and throw the last 47 per cent away. (See what we did there?)

If Obama talks about his childhood or youth, take a gulp from the drink of the person on your left. If Romney does the same, take a gulp from the drink of the person on your right. If either candidate mentions the word “freedom”, everyone high-fives.

Finally, verbal habits of each candidate. If one of them happens, everyone must repeat it out loud, and take a sip. For Obama, every time he says “my opponent” or “let me be clear”; you drink. Any time he makes a list of three on a rising cadence everyone must shout “three!” and drink.

For Romney, every time he refers to the audience as “my friends,” or laughs awkwardly, you drink. Every time he asks a rhetorical question and then says “I'll tell you why,” or “I'll tell you the answer,” you drink whether he then goes on to do so or not.

Nicky Woolf will be live-blogging the debate from 1am BST. He will not be drinking (right, Nicky?)

Obama and Romney on a T-shirt. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit