Students respond to debates

By Hetal Bhatt

The debates for the 2004 Presidential election are in full swing and have the campus buzzing with opinions.

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) squared off in the first of three presidential debates. Though the second debate is scheduled for tonight, students have not stopped discussing last week’s initial face-off between the presidential candidates.

Brian Woodhull, freshman in LAS, came away from the first debate with a rather critical assessment of his preferred candidate, President Bush.

“Bush could’ve laid down destruction for Kerry but he blew it,” he said. “Instead of taking such a defensive stance throughout the whole debate, he should’ve went at Kerry a lot harder than he did for his past flip-flopping on issues like the war.”

Some Kerry supporters were also disappointed with their presidential candidate’s performance.

“I’m all for Kerry, but he definitely got caught off-guard on some issues that the President called him out on, like the flip-flopping,” said Eddie Gonzalez, freshman in LAS. “And I think Bush did a better job of defending himself from attacks that Kerry was leveling against him.”

While students like Woodhull and Gonzalez view the debates to gauge their supported candidate’s performance, other students watch them to gain more insight into the issues in order to decide their vote. Jon Li, freshman in business, describes himself as an undecided voter who watches the debates to hear both parties’ stances straight from the candidates themselves.

“I mainly watch the debates to see where both candidates definitively stand on the issues,” he said. “Particularly the issues which I might not be quite sure about what their views are.”

Not to be overlooked, Tuesday’s heated vice presidential debate also attracted many students to their television sets.

Dhara Parikh, freshman in LAS, said the vice presidential debates forced her to change some of her own preconceived notions of the candidates and their respective campaigns.

“This whole time, I always thought Bush and Cheney were just a horrible combo and completely incompetent,” she said. “But after the vice presidential debates, I feel that Cheney really knows what he’s talking about and that the debate has given his side more credibility.”

Still, Parikh said that she is not shifting her support from the party with which she is currently registered.

“Oh, I’m still voting for Kerry-Edwards. I’m not willing to change my mind because I’ve been supporting them from the very beginning,” she said.

With that, some students question whether or not the debates serve any purpose of persuasion when so many people have already seemed to have made up their mind on a candidate.

“Almost everyone following this election seems like they’ve already decided who they’ll vote for,” said Jeff Peterson, freshman in LAS. “And usually when people are dead-set on a candidate I don’t think a few debates will make them completely change their opinions.”

But Li countered that the debates benefit viewers by letting them see how the candidates act on their own two feet, without any aides or advisors.

“(The debates) are very necessary because one aspect of choosing who you want as president is to see how they act naturally under pressure, which is a good indication of how they’ll act as a leader,” he said.

And tonight, students say they want to see more of just that – both candidates acting frankly and genuinely in the heat of debate.

“I just want to see more direct, face-to-face debating from both Kerry and Bush to see how they hold up to the pressure,” Peterson said. “This rigidly scripted format of debating doesn’t feel real enough. It just looks like they rehearsed the whole thing a couple hours before they went on air and were putting on a show like a couple of actors.”

Gonzalez can’t help but agree.

“I definitely want to see the candidates be more candid in their approach to the debate,” he said. “I want to see them present themselves in a more comfortable and lively manner and debate like actual people instead of preprogrammed machines.”