Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Presidential Debates (Non-Partisan)

On September 26, 1960, the nation tuned into the first televised presidential debates. It has long been discussed how this has effected politics ever since.

The junior senator, John Kennedy, and the Vice President Richard Nixon got together to debate the issues. People tuned in on both their televisions and their radios to listen. The results were vastly different. People listening proclaimed Nixon to be the winner, however, people watching said Kennedy won hands down. Both groups heard the same words, but the visuals influenced people whether they realized it or not.

Unlike the old television game show, 21, there was no conspiracy to make one look better than the other. Nixon had lost some weight after spending two weeks in the hospital with a seriously injured knee. He refused any makeup to compensate for the lighting which made his 5 o'clock shadow look all the worse. Due to the weight loss, his shirt didn't quite fit right either. All in all, he looked terrible before he even walked up to the podium. Kennedy, on the other hand, had spend the prior three weeks campaigning in the warm California sun and had many opportunities to rest and relax. He had no issue with adding a bit of make-up and his clothes were always perfect.

The end result was that Kennedy looked calm, cool and collected as he spoke and Nixon looked like a sickly fellow stammering away. Voters polled said that the debates helped the undecided make their decision which pretty locked the win for Kennedy.

People have since used the gauge of turning off the sound and just watching to determine the winner of the debate either as a joke or in all seriousness. This has been the case for years and everyone knows the game, but now there is a new hiccup this time around that wasn't a factor even in the last election 4 years ago. That hiccup is high definition television or "HD" as his friends like to call him.

With the country in such upheaval, more people are paying closer and closer attention to the debates and have access to HD TVs in their homes and in bars and other public venues. No matter your politics, you must admit that the young junior senator from Illinois is going to look a lot better than the much, much older seasoned candidate.

Politics aside and just looking at this from a sound off, visual only, McCain has a lot of negatives against him. With the glory of HD, we will be able to see him closer than you ever would even if you met him in person. His age is going to show and people are going to be reminded how much being President ages a person. It doesn't help that he has stood in front of large green screens which make it easy for tech savvy and non-tech savvy to replace the images behind him (see The Colbert Report for examples of this). The presidential debates on visuals alone are going to go to Obama.

It is a horrifying thought that people make decisions based on this, but it is a factor as much as people voting based on race or gender. The likelihood of convincing modern Americans to listen to the debates on their radios is out of the question so what is the answer? I can't even begin to tell you. My hope for the future dwindles with every episode of TMZ that airs.

I would just like to hear some intelligent discussion on this instead of the 24 hour news network dribble that is mean to create stories than report on them. It all comes back to a quote from Aaron Sorkin's movie, "The American President,": "You said it before, had their been a television in every home 60 years ago, this country would not elect a man in a wheelchair." And what a lost that would have been.

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