Down But Not Out

 Posted by  Thomas Niblock

Debate impressions from Robertson Hall on the Princeton University campus

To begin tonight’s debate, Senator McCain expressed his sympathy for Nancy Reagan, who fell and broke her pelvis last week. The former First Lady is undergoing painful physical therapy, but she is reportedly “in good spirits”.
 
It’s an apt metaphor for Senator McCain’s campaign. He was spirited and forceful in tonight’s debate, criticizing Senator Obama’s economic and social policies and keeping the Illinois Democrat on the defensive for most of the evening. Still, Senator McCain’s presidential aspirations are suffering right now.
 
Senator Obama did well. He does a good job of agreeing on agreeable points, such as school vouchers, with his opponent. It reinforces his campaign theme of finding common ground with the other side and makes him seem more presidential. After all, bringing both sides together, adopting the best ideas from each, and crafting policies in the nation’s interest is what presidents do. Senator Obama’s performance tonight will convince some in the wandering center that he is up to the challenge.
 
For the first time in three debates, the abortion question emerged. The moderator tried to ask it without really asking it, using Supreme Court nominations as a proxy, but he was not nearly as circumspect as Rick Warren in the Saddleback Civil Forum On National Leadership , who asked the profoundly simple question, “When does life begin?”
 
The abortion question is perhaps the most frustrating issue in American politics. On no other issue is so much demanded and so little returned. Neither candidate can alter the policy, except through marginal changes. Yet the question remains of foundational importance, which is why audiences, like the one in Robertson’s basement, revere it so (the room was silent as both candidates talked).
But it is not abortion that will decide this election. It is the economy, which leads McCain’s supporters to pray for recovery and Obama’s to pray for recovery in time. In 20 days, we’ll have our answer.
 
 
The writer is a second year graduate student in public policy and international relations in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs from Nevada, Iowa.  His blog on religion and politics can be found at http://thomasniblock.blogspot.com/.

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The mission of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at the Woodrow Wilson School is to promote empirical research on democratic processes and institutions.  That broad mandate has attracted a diverse collection of faculty, students, and visitors pursuing a wide variety of research topics. However, the American electoral process has been a recurrent focus of interest for many of the scholars associated with CSDP and a frequent topic of conferences, colloquia, and other events sponsored by the Center.  As the 2008 campaign unfolds, we thought it might be helpful and fun to collect the election-related research, analyses, and offbeat insights of our extended scholarly community, both for our own edification and as a resource for others interested in how political scientists are thinking about the election.  We welcome contributions, comments, and suggestions. For more about the people and activities of CSDP, please visit our website, http://www.princeton.edu/~csdp/. To post a comment, click the "speech bubble."

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