Debate Number Two: Dodging the People

Here’s the problem: Another Presidential debate bites the dust and another night feels almost wasted. And here’s the question: Is it my cynicism that is making these two candidates seem so tedious when they’re together, or is the inherent tedium of these two candidates inspiring my cynicism?

Look, the sins of political apathy are all too apparent to me (and probably to you as well), and I have no desire to use this space to bemoan the negative cliches of American politics and its machinery of sociological boredom as it relates to our candidates’ inability to separate themselves from the repetitive nature of their mutual attacks. To a certain extent, I consider it a given that our politicians are going to pander, that they’re going to spin, and that they are going to express only a modicum of actual human qualities when they allow themselves to be washed clean of their pale, shallow, odious Washington aspirations. But there were too many times during tonight’s debate wherein I was overwhelmed by these sad truisms, and I thought it a shame.

To be sure, there were some bright spots in tonight’s debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. I thought McCain took an appropriately offensive (as in football, not body odor) approach to the debate, continually forcing Obama to react as opposed to attack, which has not been the case in the two weeks leading up to this melee. Because of the Obama camp’s continued attempts to link the McCain campaign to George W. Bush (and, by proxy, founded or otherwise, the current economic woes we are experiencing), McCain has been forced to play the defensive, and tonight it seemed the Arizona senator had every intention to turn that tide. Sure, many voters and pundits are going to make the case tomorrow that McCain came off with a slightly harsher edge than some may prefer, but if I were one of McCain’s advisors, I would consider that a victory, not a defeat.

For Obama’s part, I thought he once again showed a fantastic degree of both poise and charisma necessary for any successful leader, especially that of the so-called “free world.” In other words, Obama, once again, came off as quote-unquote Presidential, laying to waste any lingering anxieties (founded or otherwise) some may have still harbored that his inexperience is a detriment to his ability to lead. Obama’s poise was everything tonight, which certainly softened the blows McCain was making with his decidedly pointed attacks.

I also enjoyed the obvious tension that began to bubble up during the final quarter of the evening, taking particular joy in Obama’s insistence to counter McCain’s assertions that the Illinois senator’s foreign policy theories pertaining to Pakistan are dangerous, even though such a rebuttal was against the “rules.” There was a little bit of blood left in the arena, and it’s always more enjoyable to see our politicians bleed than sweat.

On the whole, however, I learned almost nothing new this evening, and that, I believe, registers as tonight’s greatest disappointment. The aesthetics of their respective presentations aside, neither McCain nor Obama succeeded in illuminating the finer points of their proposed policies or philosophies. Sure, McCain did bring up some important facts inherent in Obama’s proposed tax and health care policies, particularly as it relates to small businesses (50 percent tax increase, anyone?) and the right to choose one’s own health care provider (“Did anyone hear him say how much the fine would be?”). Likewise, Obama did manage to illustrate why cross-border health care options could be dangerous to Americans (see his cross-boarder banking analogy for evidence of that one) and also succeeded in further elucidating why his foreign policy approach is not, as some conservative pundits have asserted, dangerous and irresponsible.

But what was supposed to be a more down-to-earth, relatable town hall-style discussion at Belmont University tonight quickly devolved into each candidate repeatedly pointing fingers at the other, obviously twisting whatever question was asked of them into an opportunity to hit the campaign talking points (the same tired campaign points) as opposed to substantially answering the questions posed. Hell, the last quarter of the debate barely seemed to feature any questions from the audience at all, as moderator Tom Brokaw was repeatedly forced to remind the candidates not to exceed their respective time limits and thus ask many of the questions himself. I do not feel as though either candidate adequately answered any of the questions the audience members put forth (see McCain’s terribly politicized response to an early questioner’s petition to know how the recently passed bailout bill was going to help average Americans). Both Obama and McCain failed to connect with the American people tonight, instead coming off as repetitive and slightly petty.

I was really looking forward to this second of three debates, because I believe this county’s greatest strength is in its government’s supposed accountability to the people. That accountability should have been on display tonight, and instead it seemed we were once again presented with two men more adept at dodging it than embracing it.

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