friday morning lights
I had the honor of attending, or more exactly, being told in no uncertain terms to attend the Cedarbrook Middle School presidential debate in Cheltenham Township, PA, this morning, at which my son Daniel (13) was one of the McCain representatives. (My older son, Ben, attends a Quaker private school and has pronounced McCain's candidacy "incoherent.") Immediately upon commencement of the exercise, several differences between the children's debating style and that of the candidates themselves became apparent, all of which reflected well on the students and poorly on the candidates themselves. A few examples:
1. The student debaters were uniformly well prepared, respectful, and stuck to the issues, with no (or virtually no) insults and absolutely no references to William Ayers, Joe the Plumber, or other real or imaginary people with no conceivable bearing on the outcome. One of the students appeared to know how McCain and Obama voted on each alternative energy bill, while my son named an Iraqi province that had been turned over to local forces yesterday afternoon. No one smiled, smirked, or interrupted another speaker for the entire two hours.
2. The students were charming, earnest, and funny, intentionally or unintentionally recreating the good parts of their respective heroes without the accumulated baggage. The first Obama speaker, a short and rather cherubic African-American male, was a dead ringer for Obama at the equivalent age. The first McCain speaker was a tall and feisty girl (woman) who looked and talked like a blonde version of Sarah Palin. If the candidates themselves had debated in 1976, it would probably have looked something like this.
3. The moderator, who I was told was Mayor Nutter's brother in law, was unfailingly competent and kept the candidates squarely within the rules.
This is not to say that there were no gaffes. One McCain speaker said Obama was a "socialist" and that he would "throw away" Israel, or words to that effect. An Obama speaker said a vote for McCain was a vote for the past, an unimaginably vicious allegation in a room full of 13-year olds. But at least these mistakes were unscripted as opposed to deliberate misstatements, and did little to detract from the atmosphere.
For Daniel it was an iconic moment. Chosen as the closing speaker, he bolted off the stage, waded into the audience, and proceeded to make an infinitely better case for McCain than McCain has ever made for himself, calling him the candidate of "reform, prosperity, and peace" and asking how Obama could lead the country when he voted 95 percent-plus of the time with his own party. He even managed to work in that Obama had received more Wall Street contributions than McCain, although he offered no empirical support for this proposition. Were Daniel the candidate, he would surely not be trailing in states having 350 to 400 electoral votes. He would, however, need somebody to drive him to his inauguration.