Debate, sort of live

What a lame mode of discourse this is…and this is better, at least in form, than most, because they could at least go at each other and indeed were encouraged by Lehrer to do so.

My main disappointment is that both candidates are much too cautious, especially in affect. We’ve all heard them saying really tough, hostile things about the other from lecterns, but face to face they’re timid and concessionary by comparison. This just doesn’t look good. “Senator, you’ve heard me say X when you’re not around: I’m going to say it to you now, to your face: X; how can you possibly defend that?” They’re also, I assume, overprepared (though much less obviously pulling talking points out of their pocket to force into the stream, relevant or not, this time).

A lot of this stuff is technical and lot involves numbers. Without graphs and tables, it becomes a mego without any takeaway; I can’t remember a bit of it. The economic discussion needed a blackboard and a few slides of tables and graphs.

I’m surprised that Obama isn’t quicker to seize opportunities; I keep anticipating good lines that he doesn’t deliver. McCain said, once too often, that he hadn’t been to Afghanistan, and the conversational rhythm fairly dictated, “I regret that I haven’t been there; I will go to Afghanistan, and when I do,I won’t orchestrate a deceptive stroll around a market with invisible security off camera in all directions, and I also hope my judgment about that part of the world improves more than yours has, Senator.”

Perhaps there’s some strategy that’s too deep for me, but I’m surprised how tentatively, and occasionally, Obama has used the words Republican and Bush. Come to think of it, what about the words lie and inconsistent. I understand why it’s a good idea to be gracious, and Obama repeatedly noted when he agreed with McCain on this or that, but for Pete’s sake, you could come away from this with no clue that McCain has spent the last two months with no clue. Worse, you could come away thinking Obama hasn’t noticed that McCain has been flailing and clueless.

I hope this isn’t too important either way.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.