Last night the USC presidential campaign began in earnest with the first presidential/vice-presidential debate in the Mustang Lounge. The candidates delivered a captivating debate, clearly differentiating their platforms and visions—oh wait, that was last year. Last night’s debate was frankly a bit of a snoozefest. There was some interesting activity on the #voteusc Twitter feed displayed above the stage, but that was promptly shut off after spectators displayed too much of a sense of humour.
First thing’s first: the physical set-up was a disaster. Having all nine candidates on stage for the duration of the debate simply did not work. In the first half, the three presidential candidates sat at the front of the stage, squished together (I’m talking fighting-for-the-armrest close) at one small table, while the six VPs were left to doodle and nap at the back of the stage while the presidential candidates fielded questions. That’s right: some USC bureaucrat had the bright idea to stick the VPs at the back of the stage where they did exactly nothing for an hour and a half before leaving stage again for intermission.
But all was not lost—the VP candidates made for some lovely stage decoration all gussied up in their team colours.
In the second half, the VPs awakened from their slumber and the nine candidates crowded the front of the stage in some kind of bizarre banquet table set-up. Finally, a chance for the running mates to regurgitate platform points of their own! Having all nine answer questions gave the spectacle an air of disorganization, and diluted the debate with too many voices.
The one redeeming feature was moderator Andrew Shaw, the USC’s governance officer. #SassyShaw earned his hashtag pretty quickly, interrupting candidates the second they went over time on their answers, and repeatedly calling them on cop-out answers, insisting they answer the questions asked. As far as I’m concerned, this guy should be moderate every USC debate—nay, every political debate at all—from now on. Jim Lehrer could learn a thing or two.
Let’s not forget the event itself. The candidate answered questions posed by Shaw and audience members, hitting a range of topics like making the USC accessible to students, increasing transparency, ensuring free speech on campus and covering the costs of their platforms.
The debate was like this campaign: no clear frontrunners. Maybe it was just because they were sitting close enough to smell each other’s breath, but by the end of the debate I didn’t feel like any of the slates had effectively set themselves apart from the competition. The answers were characterized by agreement—on many occasions candidates openly agreed with or praised each other’s answers, as if they were attending a brainstorming session instead of a debate. There were no zingers (not counting on Twitter, of course), and not a lot of energy—Shaw had more passion in his questions than any of the candidates in most of their answers.
However, during the first half of the debate Vivek Prabhu received several sudden, forced-sounding smatterings of applause for answers that were not particularly inspiring. Everyone not clapping looked around in confusion, wishing to look upon those who felt such passion about fiscal responsibility. My guess? Plants from his campaign team.
In a few isolated incidents, presidential candidates attacked their opponents’ platforms. The first such jab came from Ashley McGuire, who called Prabhu’s campaign promise to hold a public bimonthly “question period” unrealistic. Citing abundant past examples of similar campaign promises, since broken (when was the last time you stopped by Adam Fearnall’s promised “open office hours”?), she claimed the president was simply too busy to put aside that kind of time. Shrugging off the criticism, Prabhu promised to find a way (cue applause).
Jordan Sojnocki, VP external candidate for Team McGuire, questioned Patrick Whelan’s desire to end Project LEARN, likening it to a necessary punishment from protective parents. Team Whelan’s Amir Eftekharpour shot back, reiterating their platform position the police were unfairly targeting students.
Later, Eftekharpour called Team Prabhu’s proposal to allow tuition to be paid by credit card fiscally irresponsible, which was hastily defended by Team Prabhu VP internal candidate Dan Bain as being a last resort only.
The only flub—if you can even call it that—came when Jordan Sojnocki, answering a question about Aboriginal students, claimed to have been “talking to one today.” Some on Twitter didn’t take to kindly to his choice of words, but let’s be real here—that’s not racism. Poor phrasing, perhaps, but nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of those actively looking for a gaffe. (He later apologized).
Much like this blog post, the debate was just too long. With nine candidates on stage and not enough platform material to fill three hours, there was a lot of repetition happening last night. The Twitter commentary was, as usual, much more lively than the debate itself. With no clear winner after the first bout, it seems like the winner will probably be determined not by who is the most convincing speaker, but who runs the biggest campaign.