Friday, September 26, 2008

The Modern Debate (or LOOK AT EACH OTHER!)

The first debate is over.
And honestly, I'm underwhelmed.

First of all, in my humble opinion, no one won the debate. Both men made their points, but both men also stuck to interesting pieces of propaganda and points.

For McCain, it was talking about veterans, too much spending, and safety, while Obama pretty much stuck to the McCain's voting records and kept comparing him to Bush.

Secondly, Jim Lehrer is a great moderator who tried very hard to keep the men on task.

However, my biggest problem with this debate, however, is not that the candidates stuck to their propaganda, but that the debate could have been done with the candidates being anywhere. There was no connection.

Here's what needs to be done for the next debate (which is the vice-presidential candidate from my alma mater: Washington University in St. Louis):

1. Talk to each other: Yes, you need to appear professional and even presidential, but that doesn't mean you can't talk to each other.
Lehrer tired to get you two to talk DIRECTLY at each other. This led to the best lines of the whole debate.
Obama: Jim, as Senator McCain...
Lehrer: "Talk to directly to him!"
Obama: "John as you said (proceeds to respond).
McCain: "What's the matter, Jim, are you afraid I'm going deaf?"

Still, Lehrer did something that I think the American people should be asking for: he tried to make the candidates talk to each other. In the new society, the candidates have been put in bubbles of safety. Go back to actual face to face debates. It's possible to do it while still making it accessible to the American public. It was frustrating to listen to them start every sentence with "Jim, let me explain," or "Jim, listen...." How great would it be to have McCain and Obama look right at each other and actually use each other's names in non-formal fashion? It would allow the voters to see that these two men are not just talking points and handlers, but real human beings.

After the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960, it has become less about what the candidates say, and more about how they look. For the 2004 debates, George W. Bush (who is not the tallest man) asked that his podium be setup so that he and John Kerry (a taller man) were the same height. He needed to look good.

And though Obama did occasionally look at McCain, the looks were never returned. However, both men did look directly at the camera to talk to the American people.

2. Get the American Public involved: This is not that difficult. The questions were interesting, but I would have liked to have seen some of the questions be generated by the American public. Not the Minnesota Snowman on a screen, but pertinent questions that are not softballs. No, "Why are you so wonderful?" questions, but real questions that deal with issues affecting us. It's our chance to get an answer, which leads to #3.

3. No evading a question: Jim Lehrer tried to do this, but there needs to be a referee of sorts. Someone who steps out of the darkness of the crowd, blows a whistle, and says, "You didn't answer the question!"
Look, the two men were asked, "What would you cut? What would you make the priorities in the face of our economic problems?"
Instead of answering, both men stuck to a script. McCain talked about spending, and Obama talked about helping the middle class. And again, Lehrer tried reasking and rephrasing the question, but they never got to the heart of it. That doesn't inspire confidence.

4. No more post commentary: I'm not trying to put Brian Williams and his ilk out of business, but those of us actually watching the debates can make up our own minds (and most already have). We don't need a blow by blow analysis from a "fair and balanced" panel to tell us what we already heard. If you want talk about fact checking, then do it in a manner that doesn't include a fifteen minute speech from James Carville or Bill O'Reilly. Allow us to make up our minds.

For me, the biggest aspect I want changed is for the candidates to actually talk to each other. I want them to be civil, but also have a discussion...a debate. This was not a debate tonight, this was each man stating his (or his party's) positions on topics. We know these already. Discuss what matters. Don't make soundbites, make history.

Make the American public actgually believe that the debates truly matter.

Of course what do I know? I may not fill in the national vote in the upcoming election. I could be wrong.