Well, the Presidential debates are over. And while I did blog about the VP debate, I haven’t so far about the Presidential debates because, well, they just were not as interesting. Lots of rhetoric and not enough electricity. I’m not going to talk about how the debates went because I am obviously a biased party (besides, the polls speak for themselves). But I did want to talk about the debates themselves, because I thought that part of it was pretty interesting.
All 3 debates had different moderators (Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer) and different formats (podium debate, town hall debate, roundtable debate). What I found remarkable was just how much the moderator and the choice of format affected and influenced how the debate went.
The first debate was pretty bland, and obviously didn’t stick to its stated focus on foreign policy. The questions were stilted, and Lehrer came off looking like a marriage counselor desperately trying to get a feuding couple to talk to each other. Despite that, the format made for a very staid debate (if you can call it that) with the candidates simply reiterating their campaign talking points with little back and forth.
The second debate was marginally better. Time-keeper Brokaw put too much of a stamp on the proceedings in the second debate, acting like a strict school principal trying to keep unruly students at bay. The questions still weren’t that much better, despite coming from the audience (probably because the more interesting ones were not allowed). The town hall format, which was supposed to be McCain’s strength, ended up exposing McCain’s condescending and prickly personality. It also allowed Obama to show his cool in the face of an attacking adversary, reinforcing his credentials.
The third debate was far and away the best debate. Schieffer asked some great, to-the-point questions, many that a lot of people have been wanting to ask. They weren’t off topic, but they were pointed enough that they forced the candidates to talk to the question, and not simply recite their talking points. He was also pretty good at giving them enough time and yet somehow staying on course. The roundtable format also allowed for a more personal, much more intimate debate that let the candidates have a conversation with the audience and a true debate with each other (as much as any candidate every will). If I had my way, this is how all the debates would have been.
Bonus Round: After every debate, the Kaushik household would switch to CNN for the post-debate analysis. We never watched the debate on CNN because (a) we don’t have CNN HD and (b) I do not want to be distracted by the squiggly reaction graphs at the bottom of the screen. And despite the fact that CNN seems to have hired all the analysts in the world to sit on their set and provide analysis (how many analysts do you really need? are they compensating for something?), it is still interesting. The two standouts on their panel are David Gergen, who brings his gravitas and years of experience in the Presidential world to the table, and John King, who (despite his fetish of the multi-touch magic map) is the most balanced, analytical and clear of all the reporter analysts.Tags: 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, Bob Schieffer, David Gergen, Debate08, Jim Lehrer, John King, John McCain, Tom Brokaw