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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Leaders in a high school debate would do better

BY ROSE RUSSELL

THE BROADCAST media proved who's really out of touch the other night during the 21st debate between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

As moderators George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson of ABC News teamed up on the wannabe Democratic presidential nominees, about 45 minutes of the two-hour session was dedicated to issues that have nothing to do with the cost of gasoline for your vehicle or the food that goes on your table.

As for the citizen's question about Senator Obama not wearing a U.S. flag lapel pin, who was in charge of selecting that one?

For real, people, what's that have to do with ending the war, protecting our shores, getting the economy out of the dumps, reducing reliance on foreign oil, lowering the cost of fuel, stemming the housing crisis, and restoring the American dream?

Must have something to do with ratings. Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher was right when he said Wednesday's "debate" was "perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate this year."

Not perhaps. It was.

True, we knew Senator Obama would get queries about "bitter-gate," the hornet's nest he stirred in San Francisco when the media, except a blogger, were absent.

Although the senator could have made the same point with more palatable words, his statement startled some. But many people decided after all that there was no there there.

Though others agreed with Senator Obama, they disagreed with the words he chose to describe frustration among people whose economic well-being is jeopardized, and who, as a result, more closely embrace the pillars in their lives as they endure difficulties.

As for those totally put off by what Senator Obama said, the remarks only cemented their opposition to his candidacy.

And for the New York senator to describe the Illinois senator as "elitist" was not just laughable. It was a degrading, up-to-date way of labeling him an "uppity Negro." But who's ticked at Hillary for that?

Although many of the 10.7 million people who watched the debate were thoroughly frustrated with what turned out to largely be a waste of time, Americans will be glued to their TV sets Tuesday night to watch the Pennsylvania primary returns, which will either hand one of them a decisive victory, or further confuse and prolong the nomination battle.

Meanwhile, Americans are weary of talking heads constantly badgering Barack about his cursory associations, while letting Hillary dismiss landing in Bosnia "under sniper fire" and allowing her to mostly brush off the whole ordeal, happily accepting her response.

Senator Obama was frustrated with the moderators' persistence on the quibbling. Senator Clinton was too, when the heat was turned on her. When he took issue with the puerile line of quesioning, applause from the audience - who had been asked to hold off until the finish - proved that they were sick of it too.

Our GOP President has wrecked this country for nearly eight long years. At this time in this exceptionally long primary campaign and at this historic time in the nation, the public expected the moderators to press the candidates as to where each stands on issues that affect our lives. But they blew it. Leaders of a high school debate would have done better.

Now, though, anybody who still believes that Barack Obama sincerely intended to slight small-town Americans might consider why he has done so well in both small and large cities, why he does so well at the grass-roots level, with mostly every group, and why he was a community organizer.

And anybody who believes Hillary Clinton is a purposeful, persistent, pathological liar needs to rethink how she's managed to hold her own this far into the primary campaign.

TV debates and talking heads should dissect every word candidates utter. That's their job. Doing it gives voters insight about politicians, since most Americans won't ever see or meet the candidates.

But, good grief, know when to help voters know whose platform will best improve the country and their lives.

Seems to me we've had enough hashing and rehashing of the he-said, she-said bickering and verbal fumbling.

Seems to me it's way past time to quit majoring in minors and talking about their mangled, misspoken, out-of-step remarks.

Seems to me the debate before a major primary that could decide which candidate gets the party's nomination should have focused on giving voters better insight as to how they will develop a realistic national health-care plan, improve our international standing, deal with immigration, return jobs to these shores, improve public education, make college more affordable, address global warming, save Social Security, not raise taxes on the middle class, give youth a future, bless senior citizens, and catch bin Laden.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

E-mail: rrussell@theblade.com



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