Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate Prep

Don’t expect much light tonight from the last of the meetings between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Not only does the format discourage talk about details, but also on the stump, on their websites and in their ads, the campaigns have shown little desire to get too precise.

”I’ve been very disappointed in both of them for the lack of vision,” said William Shughart, professor of economics at the University of Mississippi.

He and others don’t expect much depth.

”The debate format doesn’t lend itself to detail or complexity,” said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., is the site of the third and final debate. McCain and Obama will answer questions from moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS.

Schieffer says he’ll press for specifics, but historians say he’s got a tough job, because candidates tend to be vague, even in tough times.

”Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 campaign was famously known for promising bold, persistent experimentation,” without being too specific, said John Geer, editor of the Journal of Politics.

I don’t think anyone is deluding themselves that there will be substance beyond the stump in this or any format. The last thing either of these men really want is a spontaneous event, any more than the Metropolitan Opera wants to hear one of their divas break into a jazz riff in the middle of an aria. So we’re going to spend the 90 minutes tonight looking for the “gotchas” and the reactions and the rare moment of unplanned candor. And as everyone knows, I really doubt that anyone who hasn’t already made up their mind about whom to vote for is going to change their mind. And all these focus groups with “undecideds” is pandering for an audience among the thick. I frankly don’t know how anyone could have gotten to this stage in the election process and still have not made up their mind, either one way or the other, and I don’t know why anyone else should pay attention to what they think. This is one of those elections where the differences aren’t just clear, they’re stark.