Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., right, responds to a question as debate moderator Bob Schieffer, center, and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., listen during a presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008. Copyrighted AP Photo by Charles Dharapak.
If ever you could bill an hour-and-a-half on a stage as “ripped from today’s headlines,” the third presidential debate was it.
Just five hours after Americans watched the Dow Jones Industrial Average lose more than 700 points, again, and we heard the credit markets remain as frozen as an Alaska winter, Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama took a New York stage to field a script of questions about the issues facing the country, as well as some of the sexier subplots of the campaign.
They completely missed the conflict and drama.
Why should we have expected the third part of this trilogy to be any different than previous two?
Based on its predecessors, if this were a stage show, it wouldn’t have been produced. If it was a film series, the sequel wouldn’t have been greenlighted, because the original flopped. This trio proceeded forward for the same reason we got all three Star Wars prequels: history. We’re talking the Presidential debates, Nixon sweating under the lights, Uncle Ronnie saying “there you go again,” and “I will not exploit my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” These debates have been hits, and they seem important. Obviously we should have three.
Where’s a Ronald Reagan when you need him?
Part of the problem was these two guys stayed in character. Obama was the calm professorial type, while McCain was the agitated elder, annoyed he had to contended with this upstart. As the debate opened, McCain seemed to be nervously searching for something different, stumbling over his lines in search of another voice. But soon he was back in character.
Neither man mustered a passion for the issues the times present.
On stage and screen, great playwrights have found drama in tweedy topics such as advanced mathematics (Arcadia and A Beautiful Mind) nuclear physics (Copenhagen) and medicine (House, and scores of other medical dramas). That’s because they put them in human terms, whether it’s the quest for knowledge, the struggle to save a life or the potential impact of grave decisions.
In the theater of these presidential debates, the candidates have consistently failed to humanize the pressing issues of today, even when they were talking about Joe the Plumber from Ohio.
Joe was this show’s Godot, the guy who wasn’t there, but the candidates were always talking about. Maybe it’s that candidates have used that, “I met so-and-so in this small town and they were really worried about . . . ” device over and over again, so we’ve become immune to it.
There were a number of times it felt like the candidates were reading from old scripts, whether they were party lines like McCain going on about wealth redistribution or Obama reinvoking his change theme like we’d never heard it before.
But more than missing the drama, these guys also missed the conflict, which is strange considering these two guys are in conflict. They both want the most powerful job in the country, they both will have enormous roles in how our current dramas play out. But even when given issues such as the conduct of the campaign, which has led to breathless monologues by pundits, McCain and Obama couldn’t turn the heat up above medium.
Sometimes, trilogies offer three great chapters of an amazing story you want to see over and over. But the 2008 Presidential debtes seemed like that inexplicable series, when the first chapter really wasn’t any good, and why on earth were they making more.
Thank God it’s over.
Facebook reviews: I was just checking out my Facebook friends and have to share some great status lines:
Since I am not going to name anyone, I will give a blanket, My Friend . . .
. . . would like to see the candidates have a debate on the effectiveness and influence of presidential debates.
. . . would like to be known as Jennifer the Plumber, so everyone will suddenly care what I think.
. . . is now awake from his debate-induced nap.
. . . has officially added the word "cockamaney" to the McCain drinking game.
. . . is wondering how long before CNN gets Joe the Plumber on the air . . .
AP wasted no time getting Joe the Plumber on the record.
Interesting: I am watching Charlie Rose now, and they are talking about an Obama presidency as if it is a fait accompli.