Students, faculty respond to first presidential debate


More than 40 students gathered at the Emerson Library Conference Room to watch the presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

According to the Neilsen Company ratings, the presidential debate drew in 67.2 million viewers. The debate marked the first of three debates. The two candidates discussed topics such as the economy with a focus on how to help the middle class. Medicaid, Medicare and tax increases and decreases were also debated.

Alex Pierce, a junior early childhood education major, said she wished the candidates had talked more about education and the No Child Left Behind Act. She said she wants to know what steps they plan to take to move forward on the issues.

“I’m not going to be going into math and science, so none of their comments made any impact on what I’m going to go into,” Pierce said. “I’d like to know if I have a job when I get out of here.”

Pierce said she had decided which candidate she would vote for before she watched the debate.

“In the first five minutes, I wouldn’t say that I changed my vote,” Pierce said. “It did give me a second to think, ‘Well, you know, maybe the other side does have some good thoughts that could progress us.’”

Pierce said after she watched the debate for 10 minutes, the thought disappeared. She said she felt the candidates talked past each other and weren’t very helpful in her decision-making.

Scott Jensen, professor and director of the debate and forensics club, said Romney had the edge over Obama in the first debate.

“I thought, if there was a winner, I thought the winner would have been Romney,” Jensen said. “I thought that he controlled the room. I thought that his answers were quick. He displayed a certain degree of confidence. Visually, he maintained a pretty penetrating eye contact on Obama.”

Obama’s typical laid-back style of debate hurt him, Jensen said. He also said Obama lacked confidence and it seemed he wasn’t as engaged as Romney.

Pierce thought the opposite.

“I feel like Romney really sped through a lot of things,” Pierce said. “He spoke very quickly, whereas Obama took his time and spaced out his thoughts.”

Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter were integrated into the presidential debate. Tweets were displayed on the screen as the candidates debated.

A well-known character of the long-running children’s show Sesame Street made a surprise cameo in the debate when Romney made a statement.

“I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney said. “I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too,” Romney said as he spoke to moderator Jim Lehrer.  “But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”

Romney’s comment garnered controversy and Big Bird instantly became a trending topic on Twitter. A snarky Twitter account for Big Bird, @FiredBigBird, has gained more than 28,000 followers since the debate.

Jensen said the debate between the vice presidential candidates will be more difficult   for the participants than the recent presidential debate.

“Vice presidential debates are tough because while they are a heartbeat from the presidency. It’s theoretically not their policies,” Jensen said.

Jensen said the vice presidential debate will be interesting for two reasons. One reason is the age difference between the candidates. Jensen said Joe Biden, 69,  has the opportunity to come off as more mature and appropriate for the job than Paul Ryan, 42.

Jensen said Ryan tends to be sarcastic and a little aggressive in his rhetoric. Jensen added if Ryan does this in contrast with Biden on stage, it could potentially hurt him.

Jensen also said the debate would be interesting because, for the first time in years, there is a presidential candidate who is known to have specific policy proposals.

A viewing of the vice presidential debate will be held Thursday, Oct. 11, at 8:00 p.m. in Sunnen Lounge.

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