Whether you support Obama or McCain one thing about last night’s debate just about EVERYONE agrees on is: it was BORING ! While all 80 people in the audience got to submit a question (and more from the internet) Obama supporter Tom Brokaw got to select the questions. Unfortunately the NBC “newsreader” chose the questions, and he picked the ones that TOM BROKAW wanted to hear, the same questions that were asked in the first debate, the same questions that were asked in the VP debate. I can’t look into Brokaw’s heart and see if he was trying to pick questions that would help HIS guy, or he actually thinks he has a handle on what every is thinking, but hell, where was the question on Immigration? Late Term Abortions? the role of integrity in governing a nation? How about how we should treat dictators that are on OUR Side?.
This debate will forever be known as the “My Mother The Car” of all debates simply because Tom Brokaw is OUT of Touch:
Paging Rick Warren
Why did a town hall debate in Nashville revolve around what interests an East Coast newsman?
by Fred Barnes
10/08/2008 2:00:00 AM
A presidential debate at its best gives voters a glimpse of a candidate’s personality, quick-wittedness, likeability, sense of humor, judgment, basic honesty, knowledge, even character. If the debate is a success, voters get a sense of whether they’d be comfortable with the candidate in the White House for the next four years.
Voters got none of that in last night’s so-called town hall debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. What they saw instead were two presidential candidates mostly on autopilot, repeating whole paragraphs from their stump speeches in response to policy questions. Spontaneity was absent. So was lively discussion.
The problem was the questions, chosen from thousands on the Internet and others from the 80 undecided voters assembled in a college arena in Nashville, Tennessee. No doubt there were some questions that would have surprised McCain and Obama or caught them off-guard or forced a moment on candor. But those weren’t asked.
The candidates were queried on a narrow range of foreign, economic, health care, and environmental issues–the stuff they talk about every day at rallies and fundraisers. These didn’t come close to what voters at a real town hall meeting might have asked. There was no mention of abortion, immigration, moral values, same sex marriage, guns, their role models, their view of the presidency, or their religious faith.
Rather than an unrehearsed town hall meeting, the Commission on Presidential Debates let NBC anchor Tom Brokaw to select the questions. The result was questions that reflected what interests an East Coast newsman. Nothing wrong with that, except this was supposed to be a town hall debate in which the concerns of average folks would be front and center. They weren’t.
Not surprisingly, only two new items came up. McCain announced a plan for the federal government to buy mortgages of homeowners about to lose their homes. This would allow the homeowners to keep their houses. Of course, McCain could have announced this anywhere. He didn’t need a town hall session to disclose his plan.
Obama’s only unexpected statement dealt with spending. He said his administration would, despite its new programs, produce a net spending reduction. This goal was new, or at least sounded new.
It’s true that presidential debates usually don’t generate campaign breakthroughs–gaffes maybe, but not moments that change the course of a campaign. But with the right questions, they can be a lot more interesting than last night’s drowser in Nashville. As imperfect as debates are, they can help voters gain some insight into the candidates.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t a journalist who staged the best debate between McCain and Obama. It was an ordained minister, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, the author of best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life. In separate sessions, he asked the same questions, first of McCain, then of Obama.
Their answers gave voters a far better idea of what makes the two candidates tick than all the policy-reality questions asked in the two official presidential debates and one vice presidential debate.
What did Warren ask? Questions like, who is the wisest person you know and do you listen to that person? And what is your greatest moral failure and what is America’s.
Here are more Warren questions: What have you changed your mind on? What was your toughest decision? What does your faith and your trust in Jesus Christ mean to you on a daily basis? When does life begin? What’s your definition of marriage? Does evil exist? What is worth sacrificing American lives for? How do you define “rich”? What would you do as president for the millions of orphans in the world?
In an hour with each candidate, Warren managed to draw more out of McCain and Obama than either Brokaw did last night or Jim Lehrer did in the first presidential debate. There’s a lesson in that that the media professionals would be wise to learn.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.