Mark Dalhouse, director of the Vanderbilt Office of Active Citizenship and Service and faculty head of house at East House, was one of the lucky few to have a ticket to last night’s historic presidential debate at Belmont University. Below are his impressions, written last night after the debate:
Tonight was every political junkie’s dream–I was able to attend the McCain-Obama debate at Belmont University thanks to the generosity of a Vanderbilt parent connected with one of the campaigns. We were seated in the Curb Center quite early; early enough for me to engage in some shameless spotting of the famous: there was Lamar Alexander and Harold Ford engaged in earnest conversation; Al and Tipper Gore walking to their seats shaking hands and stopping to have pictures taken; John Seigenthaler and Bernie Shaw from CNN greeting each other with backslaps and hands clasped; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention talking with Fred Thompson; and Bill and Karyn Frist (who I knew from my days as a St. Albans faculty member with their son as my student) stopping to greet me. Knowing that we had some time before the debate, I had brought along Jonathan Alter’s wonderful book on FDR’s 1932 campaign The Defining Moment but with all of these people to see I quickly found my interest elsewhere (though I still recommend Alter’s book).
The candidates emerged to applause and it is always thrilling, even if one has read extensively about a campaign and the candidates, to see them in person and to feel the palpable sense of excitement that comes with a political rally. So caught up in the 24 hour news cycle of internet and cable, perhaps we have lost something from the days of the torchlight parades of the closing days of campaigns.
The emotions of experiencing first hand the actual playing out of this quadrennial exercise notwithstanding, I felt neither candidate scored a knock out blow; nor were there any moments approximating President Ford prematurely liberating Eastern Europe in 1976 or Lloyd Bentsen admonishing Dan Quayle that he was no Jack Kennedy. I come away with gratitude for this experience. And eager to see my students in the morning.