My Reaction to the 2nd Presidential Debate

Written: 12 October, 2000

I watched most of the debate on C-Span's "Podium Watch" channel where they have the camera on the faces of both candidates throughout the debate, using a split-screen. I'd missed some of the "sighing" stuff that Gore had done last time because I had watched channels where we just saw the candidate who was speaking on the screen, and not many reaction shots. But after having to watch a week's worth of punditry about Gore's sighing -- including a bit on MSNBC where they edited together a string of Gore's off-camera sighs in an effort to make Gore look ridiculous -- I decided that I better watch what the candidates do when they are "off-camera," since the media evidently decided that this was supremely important because of their intense coverage of Gore's sighs.

So, I watched most of the debate on the split-screen channel. I noticed a couple times during the debate that Gore started to sigh at what Bush was saying, but he quickly reigned it back in. Some people have said that Gore's sighing in the other debate was calculated and not natural. After viewing his "off-camera" behavior in last night's debate, and the way he seemed to try and keep himself from sighing -- and actually did sigh one or two times -- I'd have to say that I think it's a technique that he finds natural in debates. In other words, the sighing may not be "natural" like blinking of the eyes is natural, but it's natural for him to express himself that way in that situation. Kinda like how Bob Dole often referred to himself as "Bob Dole" instead of "me" or "I." Dole knew that by saying his name, it got his name out there more, made it more familiar to people. It might have been calculated at first, but after having done it so long, it became second nature. So I think it is with Gore's sighing: he is trying to show the audience at home that he doesn't agree with what his opponent is saying, without having to say that. It's a way of getting your feelings out during your opponent's speaking time.

Anyway, Gore didn't do all that sighing this time. I was impressed by how Gore answered the questions when Jim Lehrer went through the list of actions from Lebanon and Grenada to Kosovo and so on, asking Gore which ones he supported or hadn't supported. Gore gave a clear, direct answer to each one that Lehrer listed. When Lehrer started to do the same with Bush, Bush said that he jokingly said had a "conflict of interest" with some of them, and Lehrer kinda ran through the last couple of names real quick without waiting for Bush to give an answer to each one like he had done for Gore! Lehrer listed the last couple like "yadda yadda yadda, let's move on" without waiting for a Bush yes-or-no.

Gore questioned Bush on a few items, like when Bush claimed that he supported Hate Crime legislation in Texas, and Gore challenged him on that asking why he didn't support the recent legislation. Bush came back with words to the effect of, "Well, you can't punish the murderers any more than the punishment they are getting, which is they will be put to death!" First, this ignored a potential scenario where someone is not sentenced to die. Many states, like my own, do not have the death penalty and don't want it. Thus, having an extra charge of a hate crime might add more years to the penalty of the offenders; lack of a hate crime would give them fewer years in prison. Also, I found Bush's gloating about how criminals are being put to death in his state to be chilling. It's frightening to think that someone who could talk about executions with a smile on his face could become President.

When the debate was over, I was pretty sure that Gore had won. He had taken to heart the onslaught of press criticism about his sighing and had restrained himself. I felt that he appeared more professional than Bush who had the folksy charm and speaking style of a Ross Perot, or maybe as a Northerner I thought Bush talked like a hick. I was very surprised when the post-debate analysis fawned over Bush's performance, and criticized Gore for being too "sedated."

HUH? Was I watching the debate on a parallel world, instead of my own world?

I guess so, judging by the lavish praise of the TV pundits, who pretty much gave Bush the presidency on the spot. Gore didn't make any gaffes, they said, he just wasn't aggressive enough. Well, they had complained all week that Gore had been TOO agressive in the last week -- doesn't he get any points for having been more laid-back during this debate? (Meanwhile, the media raved about how Bush leaned back in his chair, which they said exuded confidence and so forth.) The media was impressed because Bush was able to talk foreign policy without getting confused by all the weird names. They didn't give Gore any points for that, because he's expected to already know all that stuff. Thus, Bush "won" the debate because "he was able to hold his own with Gore on foreign policy for 25 minutes" or whatever it was. In other words, because Bush didn't come across as Gore's inferior, Bush wins. Strange logic.

Ah well, this bizarre post-debate analysis -- as well as Peter Jennings documentary the other night about how the NRA are trying very hard to defeat Al Gore and elect George W. Bush -- has convinced me to definitely vote on November 7th, and to definitely vote for Gore. I'd been slipping in my enthusiasm for Gore lately, and even considered not voting. But Bush's positions on the death penalty (no moritorium needed), guns, abortion, and the environment have convinced me that he'd lead the country in the wrong direction if elected President.