This post is regarding the second presidential debate on October 16th, 2012, and covers an event that was held by the Department of Politics.
Last Tuesday’s town hall style debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was fast-paced and confrontational from the start. In his response to the second question, for example, the president remarked, “What Governor Romney says just isn’t true… he doesn’t have a five point plan, he has a five point plan where people in the upper class play by different rules”. From that point on, each candidate engaged in a game of partisan one-upmanship, where each attempted to prove to the American public that he was the best choice for the esteemed office of the president. What was special about this event at Messiah, though, was not the town hall style format, or even moderator Candy Crowley’s impressive effort to control the debate. This presidential debate was special in that the Department of Politics hosted a “talkback” event in Larsen Student Union, where politics professors stayed after the debate to answer students’ questions about the views of the candidates, the debate format, and American politics in general.
In this exceedingly well-attended event, politics professors Robin Lauermann, John Harles, and Paul Rego were on hand to field the questions of interested students. The first question asked was, “Who is the middle class?” This question seems as if it could be a difficult one to answer, because President Obama and Governor Romney both express support for this “middle class,” but each of them seems to have a different way of doing so. Dr. Harles articulated the basic differences, when he remarked that Republicans tend to advocate for more free market policies to help the middle class, and Democrats tend to argue that government has a role to play in creating opportunities. Dr. Rego mentioned that most Americans, even those who are well-off, regard themselves as being part of the middle class, so candidates reach out to the greatest number of voters when they frame their appeals to the so-called “middle class.” Another student asked why candidates did not spend more time on other pertinent issues, such as the environment. Dr. Lauermann remarked that voters often see environmental and economic issues as being incompatible, and most voters are concerned about economic matters in this election. Dr. Harles added to this by saying that many Americans are concerned more with questions that are insular to the United States. Another student asked whether the candidates’ aggression in the debate would hurt them in the election. Dr. Rego suggested that candidates have to walk a fine line in appealing to voters. On the one hand, they want to be seen as strong individuals, not weaklings. On the other hand, too much aggressiveness can be interpreted as arrogance and rudeness. Both he and Dr. Lauermann discussed the idea that candidates are often more concerned with their image than with the issues. Other questions included candidate appearances and the absence of third parties in the debates. Finally, the professors recommended that students who were interested in learning more about the candidates, the issues, and the process read established and reputable newspapers and magazines, utilize the on-line resources that are available through the library, and register for Politics classes. The event was a great way for students to meet the Politics faculty, and to engage in thoughtful political discourse with one another. We hope to provide more events like this in the future!