Politico: Was it the worst debate ever?

Politico as asking, in a fascinating article, if yesterday’s Presidential Town Hall debate was perhaps the worst debate ever. The question begs exploration considering the term “Town Hall” should have been replaced with “questions picked by Tom Brokaw read by audience members.”

That being said, no, I don’t think it was the worst debate ever. I recall some Democratic and Republican primary debates earlier in 2007 and 2008 which were dull and boring.

Anyways, here’s part of the article with some further exploration, from Politico:

With the country at one of its most interesting — not to mention terrifying — moments in a generation, John McCain and Barack Obama met in Nashville for what was surely one of the dullest and least satisfying presidential debates in memory.

There have been boring debates before, of course. Truth be told, probably only a fraction of these encounters, over the 32 years since general election debates became a fixture of presidential campaigns, actually delivered on their promise of great political drama. And even interesting debates are inevitably somewhat stilted affairs, as candidates cleave to their scripts and try to avoid blunders.

But the Belmont University showdown was something entirely different. Place the gravity of the moment next to the blah-blah-blah artifice of the rhetoric and overall insubstantiality of the evening, and this is what you get: The worst presidential debate ever.

The day after leaves behind a puzzle: How the hell did candidates manage to be so timid and uninspiring at a time when American troops are in two problematic wars, the world financial markets are in scary free fall and the Dow has lost 1,400 points since Oct. 1? This is a moment history rarely sees — and both men blew it.

It was an odd reversal of the usual optics of power. Ordinarily, the national stage can take even life-size pols such as Michael Dukakis and imbue them with an outsize aura.

Tuesday’s debate was a look through the wrong end of the telescope: Men with fascinating biographies seemed conventional. The promise both men once offered of a new, less contrived and more creative brand of politics was a distant memory.

An evening this bad is not the result of just an off night by the candidates. It can flow only from a confluence of circumstances.

Both candidates carefully slipped by questions, refusing to give definites even to simple questions. Obama is knows how to walk his away around a definitive answer and sound like he gave one. It’s more obvious when McCain ignores the question and begins speaking of something else.

More from the article:

It’s not Brokaw’s fault. Or Jim Lehrer’s or Gwen Ifill’s. The problem is the commission that has been invested with pseudo-constitutional status to run the debates but, in fact, weakly defers to candidates and clings to antiquated formats. No serious candidate would skip a debate. So the commission should use its leverage to insist that the debates are interesting to voters, rather than safe for candidates. Allow moderators to be more aggressive — and to call out candidates for lame answers — and then allow the candidates to go at it over the issues that matter most without time constraints.

This is the truth as I have yet to see the candidates actually “debate,” instead they just answer a question with their rehearsed line. If the question wasn’t part of their rehearsal, they just transition to another rehearsed line. Where is the back-and-forth, where is the debate?

It is hard to imagine a more relevant question for the moment than the evening’s first, when an audience member asked for “the fastest, most positive solution” to help older people, whose economic standing is most imperiled by the crash in home values and markets.

To this specific question, Obama offered a generic answer about the perils of excessive deregulation, the need for health care and the scandal of junketeering executives at American International Group, one of the companies bailed out by the government.

McCain was at first no more responsive as he called for energy independence and low taxes. When he pivoted to a specific answer, it was with a breathtakingly ambitious idea to “order the secretary of the Treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America” and renegotiate the terms so that people have to move. But the actual details of this unprecedented intervention — the cost, logistics and philosophical rationale for protecting people from unwise purchases — were murky. And, amazingly, neither McCain nor Obama, nor Brokaw, returned to the subject.

Here’s my theory, and this is just an opinion, but I think perhaps McCain and Obama both have a little baggage with regard to this current economic crisis. McCain is attached to the Republican Party which presided over the Presidency the past 8 years along with Congress upuntil 2006. Obama is attached to the Democrats who have been implicated in blocking tighter regulations on Fannie and Freddie. Plus, Obama took President of Fannie Mac as the person in charge of choosing his Vice President.

Therefore, both candidates can attack each other but neither are entirely innocent on the issue. Just my thoughts, tear me apart in the comments, as I’m sure you will.

Obama and McCain both are men with large life stories, asking to lead the country at a large moment. With one more debate to go, could someone turn the telescope around?

I concur. I am hoping Bob Schieffer will take the liberty of livening up the final debate. Ask the questions and demand followups when neither candidate gives a good answer. Get them off their talking points and rehearsed lines.

The next, and final debate is Wednesday, October 15h, 2008 at 9PM Eastern.

Sound off below, was it the worst debate ever, as Politico called it, or was it just dull? Or, did you love it? What did you think? That is, irrespective of Obama or McCain, what did you think about the questions and the format?