Debate Debacle

By Ilasiea L. Gray

I had never watched a Presidential debate in my life until this year and I must say I’ve had an indifferent experience.  When I watched the first debate between Sen.Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, I had no idea what to expect. Originally, I thought it would be a typical debate where the two candidates would talk back and forth to each other (and of course the audience).  Right away, talking to each other proved to be a challenge.  Moderator Jim Lehrer repeatedly asked the two candidates to look at each other and talk to one another.  Obama took this in and was able to look at McCain and address him saying “John” or “Senator McCain.”  McCain on the other hand refused to look at Obama.

I found this to be very annoying and disengaging.  People watching the debate want to see humans up there, listening and responding to one another; not robots spitting out answers.  I also found McCain to be somewhat arrogant.  Stating things such as “I was called sheriff…”, “I’m a maverick”, and on Obama’s attacking of Al-Qeada, “you don’t say that out loud.”  Regardless of how I felt about McCain’s style, there were 52.4 million other viewers tuning in as well.

I wonder how they felt.  Already, this debate had about 16% less viewers than the first Presidential debate in 2004.  Does this mean people are less into politics?  Less into debates?  One thing is for sure, the first debate between Obama and McCain changed very little, if any minds at all.  They both said what they have already been saying and brought nothing new to the table.

Another theory brought up by Newsday.com is the day the debate aired.  70 million viewers tuned in for the Vice Presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Paliin, which was held on a Thursday.  Thursday is one of the biggest nights that people watch TV, while Friday…not so much.  If this is the case what about Tuesdays?

I wish the tone of the second debate held on Tuesday, October 7th could have been nearly as happy and somewhat exciting as this picture above.  I can not find the numbers on how many viewers tuned in last night but I’m guessing many turned the channel after the first 30 minutes.  As I mentioned before, I had never watched any Presidential debate until this year, but I was excited for this one because of the Townhall format.  After watching the major clip from the 1992 Bush-Clinton-Perot Townhall debate and how much it effected this format and the rules, I thought for sure this format would give viewers/voters the best look at the candidates character and that hopefully, they would warm up since the first debate.

Once again I was confused.  I wouldn’t say I was disappointed because the two candidates for the most part stated their policies and what they would do as President.  McCain opened up, reaching out to the voters, making sure to personalize his answers, repeat the questioners name (talking directly to them).  Obama did what he does and outlined what he would do as President.  However, I became very bored with this debate.  There was nothing that stood out to me except for the thing that made me feel the most disconnected; the time limitations.

After reading about how the candidates agree on certain conditions and time limitations I already felt skeptical about the debate.  But when moderator Tom Brokaw had to repeatedly remind the candidates that they “signed off” on certain rules it made me sick.  The first time; fine.  But after the third and fourth times, and the candidates consistently got cut off and were not able to rebut the others previous comment, it got to be ridiculous.  I didn’t even want to watch anymore and actually fell asleep.

My debate watching experiences have been indifferent and I don’t know how pumped I am for the last one.  I may not even watch it and instead, let the news/media just give me the highlights.  Either way, I hope the candidates can at least sway some voters instead of the same static narratives.  See you after election day.

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5 Comments

Filed under McCain, Media, Obama

5 responses to “Debate Debacle

  1. Sarah Popp

    I thought the first debate was dull. I also think that being on a Friday night contributed to the decline of viewers from four years ago. I kept thinking about what I could have been doing if I hadn’t needed to watch that, and I really wanted to turn it off. Perhaps the vice-presidential debate being on Thursday did contribute somewhat to viewership, but I think that moreso, people wanted to see how Palin would handle questions. I actually liked the townhall debate much more than the first Presidential debate. While the time limits certainly did limited responses, some regulation has to be in place. Without someone forcing candidates to move along, they could have argued about one thing all night.

  2. The candidates have a major difference in their leadership styles: McCain tends to say, “Follow me because the other guy can’t get it done” while Obama says, “Follow me because I can get it done.” Ideally, the candidates should say, “Follow me because i will help you get it done” … in any case, of the two of them Obama demonstrates a better leadership mentality

  3. Tony Robinson

    Ilasiea (and Sarah): I agree that these debates were quite dull. I appreciate the sincerity of this post, and your use of course materials and learning (such as the readings on how candidates shape the debate rules/format) to help create a good post.

    I really like your final two provocative pics of the candidates encased behind glass windows–as that’s how the debates felt. Inhuman, behind glass.

    The third debate–tonight–was far better, I think. Perhaps because the candidates sat so close to each other and were forced to open up a bit. Also, I think this moderator’s questions were the most edgy and hard-hitting.

    It’s too bad that your first debates have to be as dull as these have been. I have watched debates since the Carter-Reagan days, and these have been the least eventful, without a doubt. And considering the moment (war, economic collapse, the first black candidate, etc.), its a bit shocking how remote and mothballed they appear.

    There is such room for a candidate to really just bust through all this prepared stagecraft and directly speak to the people, break rules, and do something unexpected that captures the national imagination–but neither candidate seems willing to take that kind of risk.

  4. Stephen Noriega

    I agree that the debates were a lesson in political restraint and thus problematic in their energy level. Unfortunately, the most fatal gaffs are committed when emotions and sincerity are highest. It is during these times that Howard Dean screams himself out of the presidential race or when a politician says an off-color phrase. This is why there are only a select number of sentences that candidates feel safe in articulating. They are rehearsed, focus-grouped and edited when the political landscape demands it.

    I agree that the last debate was the best. Of course, you could see that Joe the Plumber was the next catch phrase for McCain and much of the talk came from someone’s laptop and not from the top of anyone’s head.

  5. This election will be historic no matter who wins the popular vote. We, as a country are at a crossroads. Whichever way we turn we are turning away from the “old” way of seeing and acting on things and moving towards a hopeful future. (Did you vote?)

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