I trundled my journalism students over to Losekamp Hall tonight to hear student debaters joust over the issues in the presidential campaign. Two things were striking: One was that when the debate coach asked the crowd of about 75 to 100 people to applaud to indicate who they thought won, most of the applause went to the McCain side (I concurred). But when she asked for a show of hands on how people planned to vote, I saw only one hand go up for McCain. I was sitting roughly in the middle, so I may have missed a few hands, but it was a tiny, tiny showing. I guessed that as many as two-thirds raised their hands for Obama; one of my students estimated only a third, and I suspect that his guess was closer to the truth than mine was.
But the difference was large enough to make me further ponder a point I already had considered: Would McCain be winning this race if he had someone other than John McCain to make the case for him? His ideas about taxation and the Middle East made far more sense coming from the students than I have ever heard them make coming from him.
Which leads to my second impression: Wouldn't it be great if presidential campaigns could be as focused on policies and issues as this debate was? No William Ayers, no Sarah Palin, no politicking or pandering, no guff about who looks best on stage or who loves the country most -- just a straight-up, nose-to-nose showdown over hard details of policy on the hardest issues. Wouldn't that do America proud?