Duke Profs, Students Participate In Debate Forum

This story was written by Julius Jones, The Duke Chronicle


More than 200 students, faculty and staff filled Love Auditorium Friday to participate in a forum on the first presidential debate between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama-with commentary from some of Duke University's most distinguished political science professors.

"The goal of this event is to provide for non-partisan, academic discussion on the election and to enhance faculty-student interaction," said senior Josh Parker, executive director of Duke Political Students Science Association, which organized the event.

The panel consisted of professors Evan Charney, James Hamilton, Joseph Greico, Paula McClain and Galen Irwin.

"A lot of this has to do with the visuals of a debate," Irwin advised audience members before the debate. "We're used to a 'West Wing' president, but we have two candidates Central Casting would never put into the role-one who is too old for the role and another who is too young and has the wrong skin color."

After the debate, several panelists concluded that because neither candidate made a major mistake, the debate was a draw.

"A political scientist once said that we watch debates like we watch the [Indianapolis] 500. The real reason why we watch is to see who's going to crash and burn," Irwin said. "We didn't see any crashes."

But Greico noted that because the candidates performed comparably on the issue of foreign policy-McCain's strong suit-Obama may have emerged with a slight edge.

Though DPSSA defended the bipartisan nature of the event, some students said the political affiliations of the panelists skewed the forum in Obama's favor.

"I think people who came here tonight did not get a diversity of opinions from the faculty members on the panel," said Duke College Republicans Chair Vikram Srinivasan, a junior. "Our faculty members tend to be very liberal."

But most students in attendance said their vote was decided long before the forum.

"I'm supporting Obama mainly because something needs to be changing in this country," sophomore Amy Zhang said. "This debate won't be changing my vote."

Other students were just as adamant in their support for McCain.

"I see myself supporting McCain mainly on tax issues. I do not see how new taxes or raising taxes will help boost the economy," sophomore Alexandra Tirado said. "I'm going to stay with McCain."

The forum consisted of 30 minutes of the professors' remarks on what to expect prior to the debate and 45 minutes of analysis of the candidates' performances and questions from the audience following the debate.

Though the event was held on a Friday night, Parker said he was not worried that other social options available to students put a damper on attendance.

"I would hope that the election would be more popular than any fraternity party," he said.
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