Emory Report
October 20, 2008
Volume 61, Number 8



Emory Report homepage  

October 20
, 2008
15 minutes of fame for debate experts

By beverly clark

In last Wednesday’s final presidential debate, America learned a lot about an Ohio plumber named Joe and saw candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama face off one last time.

For Emory’s deep bench of debate experts — thanks to the award-winning Barkley Forum — the debate also marked the end of an exciting cycle they see every presidential election season.

“It’s our 15 minutes of fame every four years,” quipped Melissa Maxcy Wade, executive director of forensics and the Barkley Forum. Wade is one of only three university debate coaches in the United States who has served on the National Associated Press Presidential Debate Evaluation Panel for every U.S. presidential election since 1976.

The series of face-offs has offered a host of opportunities for Emory’s debate coaches to provide analysis and insight for numerous media outlets, including USA Today, Voice of America Radio, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and local news.

In the first 20 minutes of the Oct. 15 debate, “McCain was very solid. He had a symbol for who he wanted to target in Joe the Plumber, who became an amazing metaphor for the middle class,” Wade said. It was when the questions about negative campaigning and the vice presidential selections were asked that “McCain veered off course and didn’t get back.”

Obama was able to offer a solid rebuttal to questions about his association with William Ayers, Wade says. “He made it look like McCain was launching blows in the air and landing nothing.”

Unlike previous Democratic contenders, “who tended to bludgeon you over the head with facts and figures,” Obama used evidence sparingly, and often in a way that was counterintuitive, such as citing how the national Chamber of Commerce, which doesn’t often support Democratic policies, warned that McCain’s plan threatened the unraveling of the health care system, Wade says.

“That was extremely efficient debating and made points that were hard for McCain to untangle,” she says. Overall, Wade sees a clean sweep for Obama in the presidential debates.

As for the vice presidential debate, “there will be academic papers written on that one,” Wade said.