Debate on the Big Screen

Yesterday evening, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama opened their second presidential debates at Belmont University in Nashville. As the candidates addressed voters' fears over an unraveling American economy and the crises in the Middle East, several Santa Monica residents and students joined together at the Santa Monica Public Library to watch the show live on the library's luxurious big screen.

As NBC's Tom Brokaw moderated, several voters posed questions to the candidates about their plans concerning major national issues. And though many consider this historically significant campaign to be a tight race, the majority political leaning inside the library auditorium quickly became apparent.

"This was one of McCain's last chances to [improve] his chances over Obama," said Santa Monica College student Jay Pickard, "it's almost over for him. Soon this campaign will be done, and this country can move forward."

Judging by the audience which consistently verbally castigated McCain, often hooting at the screen during his responses, they seemed to think that he "blew it" through his negative campaigning against Obama. Leah Barber, who received her A.A. in General Sciences from SMC, commented on this pattern between them. "I found Obama's attitude throughout very impressive", she said, "McCain took a lot of low jabs and Obama was still respectful the entire time. That says a lot about both of them."

When McCain portrayed his opponent as inexperienced in politics, by stating that "we don't have time for on-the-job training", many in the audience clicked their tongues disdainfully. The same people clapped boisterously with Obama's face-saving response: "Senator McCain has suggested several times, in this debate and in the [first] one, which I don't understand. It's true; there are many things I don't understand...I don't understand why the events of 9/11 caused us to invade a country that had nothing to do with them..." The cheers from the audience drowned the rest of his sentence out.

Strong public speaking skills do not guarantee equally strong tactics as president, but SMC student Quinn French, said that Obama's effectiveness in communicating his "points and counter-points honestly and without the smarminess of McCain" means that "Obama wins."

"McCain is seeing his electoral map fall apart [and] he's losing any kind of attack strategy. He basically needed a blowout victory to move the polls," said political science major Sam Drusus.

Both candidates were generally polite, yet the tension was clear as Obama accused McCain of hypocrisy after he said that the U.S. should "speak softly" in foreign dealings: "This is a guy who sang 'bomb, bomb, bomb Iran', who called for the annihilation of North Korea" said Obama, meeting the laughter of the audience in the auditorium "- that I don't think is an example of speaking softly." However, McCain used an equally accusing tone to point out Obama's supposed lack of clarity, stating that "pinning down" his opponent's tax plan is like "trying to nail Jell-O to the wall." At one point, McCain even referred to Obama as "that one", which induced several excited gasps from all over the auditorium.

"After the first half-hour I realized the debate was just a joke", said Elliot Zatzkis, a film major at SMC, "with McCain just avoiding questions and discrediting Obama. I got the feeling that he was hiding all the answers, if he even has any, that wouldn't be good for his campaign."