What Made The 1st Presidential Debate Significant?

On September 25, 1962, James Meredith was blocked from entering Ole Miss by segregationist, Governor Ross Barnett, despite a Court order. He was later admitted on October 1, 1962 as the first black student at the university. His entrance caused riots which left two people dead, 48 soldiers injured and 30 US Marshals with gun wounds. The Governor was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt but never paid the fine or served time. This was a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States.

Forty-six (46) years later, September 26, 2008, Ole Miss is the site for the first presidential debate. With the crude history of the school, it is astonishing to note that the school is hosting the first debate which includes a Black Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. Days earlier it was questionable to whether the debate was going to take place.

It was about a year ago, that the Republican nominee, John McCain, admitted that he did not know much about the economy.

After becoming the nominee, McCain tapped Phil Gramm as his economic adviser. Gramm later said that we are in a “mental recession” and that we have become a “nation of whiners.”

Since the conventions, there has been trouble with the nation’s major financial institutions -- Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, American International Group (AIG), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Wachovia. Although this was broadcasted daily in the news, Monday, September 15, 2008, John McCain noted that the economy was fundamentally sound. Tuesday, he explained that he meant to say American workers are fundamentally sound and the economy itself is in “crisis.” He added that the crisis did not warrant bailing out AIG. Wednesday, he said the rescue of AIG was regrettable, but unavoidable. On Thursday, he stated that if he were president he would fire Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox. Obviously, McCain didn’t realize that if he was president, he would not have the authority to fire Cox.

The following week, Wednesday, September 24, 2008, McCain advised in a press conference that he was going to suspend his campaign. He indicated that he would return to Washington until the financial crisis was resolved. This would include postponing his debate with Obama with only 42 days left until the election.

It was rumored that McCain wanted to postpone it until October 2, 2008, so that he could cancel out the vice presidential debate with Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin v. Delaware Senator Joe Biden.

The campaign of Senator John McCain was apparently in trouble. The polls were dropping significantly because of the above listed comments and Governor Palin’s interview with CBS’s Katie Couric. Palin could not answer questions such as -- McCain's record on regulation issues, her foreign policy credentials, her preferred news sources of news, and a Supreme Court case she disagrees with. She also appeared to stumble when relating her views on the financial bailout.

So his response to suspend his campaign was not a big surprise. Also, it was no surprise that Obama said that he would still be going to Mississippi. The moderators were going to revamp the format for just one candidate, Obama. There was no way that McCain could afford to allow Obama 90 minutes of free air time. He was forced to attend the debate whether he liked it or not.

I attended the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) viewing party for the debate. Of course, the audience was a little bias favoring Senator Obama. It was interesting to watch the audience reaction during some of the comments. McCain played the sympathy card, the experience card and the fear card, but to no avail. His body language showed distaste and anger. He would not look at Obama or in his direction. The moderator, Jim Lehrer, even made reference to this fact by attempting to get them to talk to each other. In contrast, Obama was very concise and precise with his responses, which was different than his appearance at Rick Warren’s Compassion Form. Because of the failing economy and McCain’s lack of experience with this issue, Obama was the successor. Although, conservatives wanted to conclude that the debate was a tie, Obama was the clear winner.


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