Watching Presidential Debate With AARP In Madison


A diverse crowd, almost a microcosm of the City of Madison, showed up at the Concourse Hotel for the AARP presidential debate watching party on Wednesday night.  In addition to voters old enough to belong to AARP, there were college students concerned about tuition fees and school vouchers, high school students hoping to better understand the political process, and even a couple of undecided voters.  There were African-Americans that reflected both the young and old.  But first and foremost, all were Americans looking for the way forward as a country.

Walking in tonight I thought of how Washington Post reporter David Broder might feel as he travels the country while trying to better understand the mood of the electorate.   I too over this past year have questioned all sorts of people about the national race, and from the guy who gives our car an oil change, to the folks in the check-out lanes, it is fun to take the pulse of the average voters. Needless to say there is a lot of angst in the nation.  But what about a group of Wisconsinites only weeks from the election with concerns over pensions that are collapsing in value, a health care system in need of major repair, and a state budget that is $3 billion in red ink due to the national economy?  How would these voters with different life experiences speak about the possibility of our first African-American President?   

Sitting at our table were two ’20-something’ college students with studies in history and law, a 53 year-old lady, along with an 80-year-old architect who retired to Wisconsin.   The small sampling of voices I heard throughout the room echoed the larger themes of what we all have read or heard over the past months.

During the debate one man at our table was frustrated at the long time spent on Barack Obama somehow being associated with a terrorist, and leaned over and snapped in my ear  “this is old trash”, and wanted more relevant questions and topics posed to the candidates.  “I have heard all these talking points before’, he concluded.

The history major at our table felt that the previous debates were not illuminating, but more just summations of each candidate’s talking points. Asked what issues he thought were most important to this election he gave an expansive and delightful response.  “What is the role of government?  Is it all about protecting private property, or does it extend to the larger issues of health care and the environment?”  I admit I am drawn to those types of thoughtful views, and had a great time talking with him.

The fear factor that is present in both campaign rallies and advertisements by John McCain, was also evident as one middle-aged white woman told me that the nation was not ready for an African-American president.  She informed me that she liked John Kerry and voted for him in 2004, thought President Bush was not very bright, and opposed the Iraq War.  But when I asked whom she was going to support in the fall election she claimed to be undecided.  When I asked how she viewed the historic nature of possibly having Obama elected she agreed it would be historic, but thought “America was not ready”.  I think she might have been alone in the room with her views, but sadly not alone in the nation.

There was sneering laughter at many points as John McCain either acted petulantly, or rolled his eyes in response to Obama’s responses.  It was interesting to note that many seemed very aware of the importance of body language in the debate, and seemed to score that as a negative for McCain.

The biggest laugh of the night came when Barack Obama pointed out that McCain was misrepresenting his tax plan by saying, “even Fox News disputes your claims”.  The crowd appreciated that remark.  The second biggest laugh was just for the question of ‘why Biden or Palin would be best to serve as President?”   I thought I heard a person unexpectedly swallow an ice-cube about then and cough!

My overall thoughts, as expressed to the crowd after the debate in a follow-up session, which was recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio and should air Thursday in their news segments, is printed below. (As a follow-up, WPR had my name wrong, though I was the first male voice on the news segment.  http://clipcast.wpr.org:8080/ramgen/wpr/news/news081016sm.rm

Where was the meat in the debate beyond the talking points for each campaign?  We entered the debate with the news that a car company would stop production in our state, news that the Dow had dropped 733 points, and that the state was $3 billion dollars in debt due to the national economy.  And yet the debate was structured so that a radical from the 1960’s took away time from real issues!  The political process, which allows these candidates to set up their own rules for the debates, makes sure that there are never any true debates.  So no one can claim they heard anything new unless they were not listening to the stump speeches by each side over these many months.

We all need a leader for the future, but I suspect that we also just need this election to come to an end.

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3 thoughts on “Watching Presidential Debate With AARP In Madison

  1. Ann Seidner

    Re: Presidential debate of 10/15th
    McCain did it again….the only way he knows to debate is by attacking the character of Obama. That is because he has no clear, definitive plan to lead the country so he resorts to attacks. Also, when he looks at Obama or speaks to him, he is condescending, mean spirited and downright nasty. Are these the characteristics of a leader? I think not.

    And speaking of character attacks, what about Sarah Palin’s cover up of the cold blooded killing of 14 wolf pups (which is against the law) in her state of Alaska? She has tried to keep it under wraps but it has come out and now a full fledged investigation should be held.

    Also, what about Sarah Palin’s husband’s membership years ago in a Secession Party? She attended many of the rallies and this party basically called for secession from the United States and was anti-American. Shouldn’t the American people be informed about her ties to this?

    John McCain and Sarah Palin do not belong anywhere near the White House because these people are not honorable, enlightened, compassionate or intelligent.

  2. Ann: Sarah Palin’s husband attended, yes attended a few (2) meetings of the Alaska Secession Party in 1995. 13 years ago. He has not gone to any meetings since. He nor the Governor joined the party.

    Wof Pups??? Where did you get this story, National Enquirer? Daily Kos? The Governor shot some wolves to thin the herd down. AKA: There were too many of them. Wisconsin does the same thing with deer. Hunters shoot to thin the herds or they would die of disease or starvation.

    (Editor’s Note: Every now and then I have to employ the delete button to all, or a portion of, a comment. I did so with the rest of this post. Just as a newspaper will not print every letter to the editor, I too have made known that I will not allow this blog to be used as an echo chamber for those who wish to peddle stories and claims that are not valid. As I have said before the comment section is to be used freely, but it can’t be used to throw just any wild claim out, and then allow others who may not know the facts to think a false story is somehow true. I owe my readers more than that.)

  3. Ann Seidner

    Answer to Ferrell Gummitt:
    In answer to your question about the killing of the 14 wolf pups, I got my information from the Humane Society of the U.S. website, not the National Enquirer. I understand that hunting goes on in Alaska and wolves are killed, however, it is against the law to kill wolf pups. This summer, Alaska wildlife personnel staked out a known wolf denning site — a practice that is illegal under Alaska law — and gunned down 14 adult wolves from the air. When they landed, they found 14 infant wolves in nearby dens — and methodically shot each one in the head. It’s time for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to seek a thorough investigation into the killing of these wolves, and to bring any state employees who acted illegally to justice.

    As to Todd Palin’s membership in the Alaska Independence Party, I got my information from the director of Division of Elections in Alaska, Gail Fenumiai, who said that Todd Palin registered in October 1995 to the Alaska Independence Party, a radical group that advocates for Alaskan secession from the United States.

    Besides a short period of a few months in 2000 when he changed his registration to undeclared, Todd Palin remained a registered member of AIP until July 2002.

    The AIP has long been aligned closely with paramilitary militia groups — the kind that fear black helicopters and a United Nations takeover of the US. Indeed, under the leadership of AIP’s tough-talking founder, Joe Vogler, AIP allied itself with the Islamic dictatorship in Iran in 1993 so that Vogler could appear at the United Nations to appeal for Alaska’s freedom from US “tyranny.” A fellow AIP member murdered Vogler before he could take the UN stage. The current AIP chairwoman, Lynnette Clark, believes that Vogler’s killer was framed and all but blames the Federal government for Vogler’s “execution.”

    The security processes that govern access to our defense and national security institutions might not look so kindly on Todd Palin’s past political associations. Indeed, if Todd Palin were applying for a job in the US government or as a contractor that required access to sensitive classified information — a security clearance — he would very likely be ineligible.

    Just google “Todd Palin and Alaska Independent Party” and you can read all about it.

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