Richard C. Harwood, President, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation What an abhorrent, insulting, incoherent and, most of all, disingenuous performance last night by the two presidential candidates. I literally wanted to stand up in my family room and boo so loudly they could hear me in Tempe.
Did you notice how when the two candidates gave their closing statements, all of a sudden their language, physical demeanor, and tone became “presidential”? And yet all we got during the debate were half-truths, unanswered questions, and even canned laugh lines. It made me want to turn off the TV.
On Tuesday of this week, I spent an hour on Wisconsin Public Radio doing a call-in program with voters in that swing state. Their frustrations about this campaign, their desire for real answers, their hope for genuine leadership was palpable. Then on Wednesday morning I wrote a report about how Las Vegas citizens and leaders view the challenges of their community; people there need to find ways to come together. Then, just the before the debate, on Wednesday evening, I was in a conference call with about fifteen civic leaders from Jackson, MS., who are looking for smart ways to move their community forward.
As I watched the debate, I kept thinking about these people, in different states, in truly different parts of the nation, all with different political leanings. The debate last night did not speak to their concerns and aspirations. There was a total disconnect.
Instead of the candidates telling us who they really are, what kind of country they seek to help create and lead, and what values and beliefs drive their views, we got long laundry lists of proposals, long litanies of complaints, and long-winded answers, sometimes with little substance.
At one point in the debate I remember thinking to myself how odd it was that neither of the candidates felt compelled to articulate any sense of vision for the country. Neither of them was hopeful about the future. No one suggested that Americans have any obligations to one another, or if they did it was a fleeting moment. There were no themes, no ideas, and no sense of possibility. There was no calling us to a big goal or challenge, no sense that we belong to anything larger than ourselves.
Indeed, the moderator’s question about pulling a polarized nation together was almost embarrassing. How could either of these candidates honestly answer that question when it deserves such a genuine response?
Now, the candidates have three weeks to redeem themselves and to challenge this nation. God help them.