Should they, or shouldn't they?
As news broke last night that the potential $700B bail out was falling apart thanks, in part, to John McCain's involvement in urging for an alternative proposal, it seemed we were very close to postponing, if not outright canceling, the first of the scheduled Presidential Debates.
McCain had already signaled his intention of skipping the debate earlier in the week:
"I am calling on the President to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself," Mr. McCain said in New York on Wednesday afternoon. "It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem."
McCain's critics immediately cried foul, implying that he was using the dire financial crisis to his political advantage. Obama's critics were equally offended by his retort that the debate should go on, complaining that he was using McCain's bipartisan overture against him.
The Argument Against Debating Tonight
I was having a conversation this morning with one of my partners, Monty, who is - by far - one of the sharpest and most reasoned minds I have the pleasure of associating with. Were it not for him, we wouldn't have been half as defensively positioned as we've been in the face of this crisis. And, for the most part, we see eye to eye on life's big issues. I say all that because he and I appear far apart in our view of the debate.
His view is that neither Presidential hopeful should take the stage tonight. He reasons that regardless of whether McCain's overtures were politically motivated, it was the right decision because the future leader of the free world [whether it be Obama or McCain] needs to have a direct hand in shaping the solution to our current crisis. I can't disagree with his logic, McCain and Obama are acting U.S. Senators and one of them will be the POTUS. To not have input on what's transpiring now would be a disgrace.
Another good friend of mine [who wants to remain anonymous] reminded me that "elections aren't won or lost on debates, they're just dog and pony shows to help the media get some ratings points." While I don't entirely agree with his jaded premise, I do understand his point that debates, in and of themselves, aren't always the most important variables in the election equation.
Why I Disagree and Think We MUST Have a Debate Tonight
Despite the very rational arguments against having a televised debate tonight, I'm strongly in favor of the debate forging ahead as scheduled.
Reasons for forging ahead:
- It's the largest audience the candidates will have prior to the election -- History shows that the first debate is always the most watched. Furthermore, 70-80 million Americans will be watching tonight's events which is, inarguably, the widest reach either candidate will have to stake his claim to the highest office in the land
- Debates HAVE played an enormous role in close elections -- The polling numbers indicate an incredibly close race. Many voters remain undecided. History has shown that televised debates CAN be major factors in tight races. Let's not forget that Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were neck and neck in the polls until the debates.
- The American people deserve a place at the table -- Putting off or canceling a debate at a time of crisis would send the wrong message to an American voting populace that feels underrepresented already. What kind of message would it send if our candidates held off addressing the American people in order to solve a financial crisis that most voters view as a "Wall Street" problem? Misguided or not, a LOT of Americans feel that way, and we can't ignore the will of the people.
- Oration and debate are critical skills for a competent world leader [or at least SHOULD be] -- Call me an idealist, but I still believe that the POTUS should be able to convey a strength of character and ideals on the largest of stages. He should be able to stand before the world and evoke a sense of calm, a sense of trust and, most importantly, a sense that he's a leader of men. I would never hire someone that couldn't articulate their views clearly and concisely, why should it be okay for the most powerful elected official in our country to lack those skills? As I type this, I'm staring at copy of Abraham Lincoln's Speeches and Writings sitting on my bookshelf, is it unreasonable to think we could again have a leader as eloquent?
- We may actually see our candidates go off script, for once -- Tonight's debate is supposed to focus on foreign policy and national security. That said, I would be shocked if Jim Lehrer [tonight's moderator] doesn't find a way to make our financial problems a central issue. Debate preparation is a science unto itself these days, I realize. But if there's going to be a moment when Obama and McCain have to think on their feet and speak off the cuff, it's tonight. We're in the midst of a historic financial crisis and neither man has all the answers [because there are no answers, yet]. Let's see how they handle themselves at a time when there is one central issue that most voters care about, and no stump speech or party line with which to stand behind.
- Postponing under the guise of dealing with the financial crisis is disingenuous [or would at least be perceived that way] -- The idea that debating would take either Senator out of the ongoing financial bail out discussions rings hollow, in my view. It would be one thing if both Obama and McCain were busy handling their Senatorial duties in lieu of other campaign obligations, but how many days (and votes) have they missed on the campaign trail? It's reasonable for them to hit pancake breakfasts, church socials, and rallies in key electoral blocks day in, day out, but not reasonable to address the key issues on the grand stage? Non sequitur.
- Debating doesn't preclude the candidates from being involved in the process -- These men are used to appearing in three or four states in a single day and how many countless appearances? How many people on staff do they have? Is there a chance they're not connected 20 different ways to what's happening back in Washington? Realistically, they could bury their heads back into this bail out discussion the second they're off the podium, while flying in their planes back to D.C. and as they're being chauffeured back to the Congressional offices.
I realize I may be coming across as an idealist [when I genuinely pride myself on being a realist]. But I've always felt that the office of President of the United States should be held by someone capable of greatness. I find it impossible to reconcile the notion that the leader of the United States can't be both a person of character and a polished orator. Why can't we have it all? Has it gotten to that point where it's no longer reasonable to expect our POTUS to be more intelligent, more articulate, more inspiring than most? I certainly hope not. Could tonight's debates end up an unmemorable blip on the long election trail? Perhaps. But given the uncertainty surrounding our economy, the myriad questions [many without answers] facing us in the days and weeks ahead, wouldn't it be fantastic to be blown away tonight by one of these men? To be shown that, in fact, one of them really is capable of greatness? I'll be watching, and I'll continue to hope until the last of those 90 minutes.
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