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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Debate obscures genuine issues

    Our political biases, personalities and sensory perceptions may lead us to declare a winner from Friday’s presidential debate, but we really should know better. We don’t know who won, the media doesn’t really know who won, the obnoxious woman you overheard at Vila Thai last night doesn’t know who won – no matter what her Tiger Beer said – and the candidates themselves probably don’t know either.

    The only people who do know, obviously, are their respective campaign staffs.

    Despite predilections, the Republican campaign actually figured it out this week when they announced Sen. John McCain as the winner, before he even decided to go through with the debate. A writer at the Washington Post leaked a screenshot of an online ad on Friday morning, featuring robot McCain with that goofy forced smile in front of an American Flag and the words “”McCain wins debate!”” underneath.

    Although embarrassing, the incident does nothing but publicize the rampant spin machine on both sides of the fence – a spin machine that is by no means new.

    Perhaps a precursor, the “”Kerry Won”” online campaign in 2004 demonstrated that people who saw his ad after the debate were statistically more likely to believe that Kerry won, regardless of whether they were Republican, Democratic or independent. Thankfully, that ad leaked after the debate was over.

    Both campaigns set out Friday night and Saturday morning with a number of dishonest and misleading tactics to prove their domination: McCain’s side faulted Sen. Obama for seemingly pausing before saying the name of a dead soldier he was invoking; Obama’s side faulted McCain for not using the words “”middle class,”” which was in turn followed by McCain faulting Obama for not using the word “”victory”” when referring to Iraq; McCain countered again by compiling all of the instances where Obama agreed with him, god forbid; and Obama’s side set their sights to the future by mocking Gov. Sarah Palin.

    It’s no secret that each side has a vested interest in winning, but it’s kind of disheartening how well this crap actually works.

    The same New York Times article that detailed all of these spin strategies sought to justify the process by explaining its consequences: “”While such criticisms may seem, on first glance, trivial, they are the kind of issues … that can catch fire and influence public perception,”” the article said. “”They can also put a candidate off-guard for the next debate.””

    No matter how hard the candidates try, the complexity of the political landscape and the debates themselves make it impossible to really win until hours or possibly years down the road. The spin machine influences the press, which ultimately gives the verdict on a complicated and undecided issue.

    If we look back at the vice presidential debates of 2004, we can see that the press has pretty much agreed that Dick Cheney beat John Edwards. Newspaper journalists referring back to it today all seem to point to the fact that Cheney appeared more stately and confident (despite whatever failed policies he was endorsing, which is beside the point), and cast doubt on Edwards’ motives for being second in command.

    But at the time there were just as many assorted opinions as there are now. In reality, it wasn’t that clear at the time who won the debate. Who knows how many views have been silenced by the forced simplicity of time and the spin machine?

    The only way to really get a hold on the specifics of the debate is to ignore the furor surrounding the issues and develop your own criteria to decide who won. Perhaps you can look at things like who lied the most. (According to, both had their share of lies.) You can look at who appeared the most confident or who expressed himself the best. Or – and this is the kicker – you can actually consider whether you agree with the policies the candidates discussed. (If, of course, you understand what they said behind all the muddle.)

    When we watch the remaining showdowns, it might be beneficial to approach them from the viewpoint that nobody can really win, despite what their supporters will say and what the press will say later. If you look at it like that, it’s not about who won the debate, but whose ideas will win for you and the country. Who will win for the sake of our children and our children’s children and the volatile fate of the earth as we know it?

    Or, you can just ignore that and focus on their hair.

    – Andi Berlin is a journalism senior. She can be reached at

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