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Second debate not a game-changer, experts say

on October 7, 2008


OCT. 7—The experts agree: the second presidential debate was a snoozer—and irrelevant.

Three political experts analyzed the candidates’ performance after a debate-watching party sponsored by the Institute of Governmental Studies department at UC Berkeley, where a rather sedate crowd of about 140 students and professors gathered to watch the event.

Students and professors watch the debate at UC Berkeley

Students and professors watch the debate at UC Berkeley

Language expert and author George Lakhoff summed up his opinion of the debate in a single word: Boring.  Obama played it safe, Lakhoff said, missing several opportunities to lob “hardballs” at McCain. Their jibes at one another were only slightly stronger than in the previous debate, but not much, Lakhoff said. And moderator Tom Brokaw “didn’t do an interesting job” of picking provocative questions.


In fact, Lakhoff said, the most noteworthy part of the evening was the town hall audience. “They looked scared and upset—and it is because people are,” said Lakhoff, a professor of linguistics. “You could see how anxious they are about the economy. But no one really looked convinced about the candidates’ answers about the economy.”

Linguistically, both candidates could have appealed to those audience members by using more straightforward terms, Lakhoff said. Obama frequently used the word “deregulation,” for example, when Lakhoff believes it would have been more effective to say: “What that means is your protections were taken away by an administration that believes in a free market, even if you get hurt.”

George Lakhoff discusses the debate

George Lakhoff discusses the debate

Obama appears to be relying on the economic meltdown to give him a boost in the polls, Lakhoff said. That’s because people are more likely to blame Republicans for the current crisis, he said.

“Obama should be further ahead; it’s because he needs to explain this to people in ordinary terms,” said Lakhoff.

Marc Levin, assistant director of IGS, thinks that the debates are just a showy distraction from the actual party policies. “In all these campaigns there are a lot of promises, but in reality very few get implemented,” he said. “What a campaign says and what a president does aren’t the same.”

“They want to cherry pick and talk about things people want to hear about,” he said. However, the party platforms, promoted at conventions and detailed in formal documents available online, don’t get the same attention—even though, Levin argues, they are what really matters.

“Politics is fun,” he said, but “in reality there’s a platform these candidates are running on, and people aren’t paying attention.”


David Karol speaks about the debate

David Karol speaks about the debate

For David Karol, an assistant professor of political science, the debate tonight was inconsequential in the grand scheme of this year’s election.


Karol, whose research focuses on how and why political parties change policy positions, said he thought both candidates were “polished” and did an adequate job addressing issues and fielding questions. Neither, however, delivered the miracle that Karol believes would be necessary to declare an obvious “winner.”

“I think Obama had it tonight, but even if he didn’t it wouldn’t make a difference. The situation this year is overwhelmingly favorable to the Democrats,” said Karol, noting that President George W. Bush, along with his administration’s fiscal and foreign policies, is one of McCain’s biggest liabilities in this election.

“For a debate to outweigh these factors, it would take a collapse on the part of one of the candidates,” said Karol. “At this point, Obama has a significant lead. McCain would really need to deliver a crushing blow. That didn’t happen tonight.”×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg|×200.jpg

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