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Televised debates stoke political fires throughout campus

Helena Guan

On Wed. Oct. 15, about 70 members of the Mills community gathered in the Student Union to watch the last 2008 presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

The crowd was decidedly pro-Obama. “I am hoping that Obama makes a really good impression in this last debate. In the last debate, it seemed like he was mostly on the defensive; so, I hope he is more assertive,” freshwoman Shoshana Burda said as she waited for the debate to begin.

According to CNN, Senator McCain played offense throughout much of the final presidential debate. Polls show Senator Obama with a lead in the race.

This viewing party was the fourth of its kind, including the vice presidential debate between Senator Joseph Biden and Governor Sarah Palin on Oct. 2. That debate had the greatest turnout, but the turnout at the last presidential debate was similar to that of the other two presidential debates.

It was hosted by the Mills Public Policy program, which provided free pizza for all attendees. Public Policy administrators said they hosted these events to give students an opportunity to watch and perhaps share their opinions of the issues presented by the candidates in the debates.

Ife Tayo Walker, the Public Policy Program Coordinator, said, “We also realized students may not all be able to access the debates on campus so we wanted to provide this venue. As the Public Policy Program, we felt it was appropriate to encourage students to pay attention to the issues, and to support their efforts to become informed.”

On her way to the Student Union, senior Hanako Hjersman said, “My mind is made up, but I know that a lot of people are still on the fence, I think more for superficial reasons than actual policies of the candidates. I don’t know if this last debate will really change people’s minds if they haven’t decided by now. I think that people who haven’t decided may be more influenced by what they hear in the media.”

Bob Scheiffer of CBS News moderated the debate. In his opening statement, he said, “By now, we’ve heard all the talking points, so let’s try to tell the people tonight some things we haven’t heard.”

The debate focused on domestic policy, and issues were raised that hadn’t been included in the previous two debates. One such issue was abortion rights.

McCain asserted that he would “never impose a litmus test” on court judge candidates by only nominating candidates opposed to abortion. He also stated that a judge who supported Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, would not be part of the qualifications upon which his court nominations would depend.

Obama, on the other hand, embraced the idea of sex education as a way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, which lead to abortion. “Nobody is pro-abortion,” he said, refuting McCain’s claim that he is aligned with the extreme aspect of the pro-abortion movement.

According to Walker, the presidential debates are important tools because prior to viewing them, students only had limited opportunities to know what the candidates’ policies and plans are.

“To see the candidates in this forum was informative. All presidential elections are important and this one is no exception. The country faces multiple serious challenges that will require thoughtful decisions in Washington, and of course it is likely that the next President will appoint one or more Supreme Court justices,” she said.

“But we will be looking to the President not only for policy direction, but for the inspiration and encouragement we will need to confront our challenges effectively,” Walker added.

Once the debate ended – about 8:30 p.m.- students discussed their reactions amongst each other as they filed out.

Junior Ashley Grant showed her support for Senator Obama, asserting proudly, “No, way, no how, no McCain.”