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Welcome to Red State/Blue State, a feature presented by The Anniston Star of Anniston, Ala., and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the December 2001 edition of the Atlantic, David Brooks wrote an essay titled "One Nation, Slightly Divisible," in which he suggested that America is divided largely into two political cultures, one "red" and one "blue." His idea is based on those electoral maps in 2000 that colored majority-Republican states in red and majority-Democratic states in blue. Brooks' witty essay pictures the red-state voter as trending rural, a salt-of-the-earth type, concerned with individual liberty and family values, whereas the "blue" voter trends urban, more of a book-reader, a Beltway-savvy intellectual, the environmentally conscious soccer mom or dad.

Cliches? Maybe. But Brooks does have his finger on two very strong currents in the American votership. It's not that Pennsylvania is a "blue state" or Alabama is a "red state." It's that our two political cultures don't talk to each other much, or even know much about each other. To bridge that gap, we've brought together two "red" voters - John Franklin and Cynthia Sneed - and two "blue" voters, Terri Falbo and Timothy Horner. Each week, they'll ponder and debate the issues arising in the election campaign. The hope is that they'll model an intelligent discussion, a great big conference room where red and blue sit down together.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Terri Falbo, Blue Stater 

Question Number Ten: Do you like the format for the debates? Are they "real debates"? Do we ever learn significant things about the candidates from these debates? What would you rather see?

I would like to see the American people take democracy more seriously and to get involved in deep thought and discussion earlier than a month before a major election. We need to realize that democracy is not a spectator sport. Analysis should not focus on facial expressions, body language, and pronunciation of words.

Instead of strictly formated sessions with a plethora of "rules" designed to ensure the candidates don't appear too bad, I would rather see real, full discussions of issues of vital importance to our future. If there are more than two viewpoints on a subject, all should have an opportunity to be fully presented. This process would probably need to occur very early - if possible, even before candidates were selected by the various parties.

For an example of how an important viewpoint can be excluded from the process, consider the occupation of Iraq and the administration's plans for Iraq's future. There are organizations of Iraqis, in Iraq and all over the world, who were longtime opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime and who are both pro-democracy and anti-U.S. occupation. These groups include women's organizations, labor unions, academic and professional associations, and human-rights advocates. I recently attended a seminar with an Iraqi-American speaker from one of these organizations. He stated that in the past, their attempts to try Saddam Hussein in absentia had been rejected by the U.S. government. Currently, such organizations are either being ignored or repressed.

So, there are plans to have "free" elections three months from now in Iraq. And the dominant discussion in this election is how to make sure there is "security," which seems to translate solely into military defeat of insurgents. Where is the discussion of involving a broad range of Iraqi organizations in helping to define the parameters of debate regarding the country's future and in determining the structure for elections, the candidates, etc.?

With Bush's plan it seems the candidates (or maybe just one candidate) will be picked by the United States from a list of former CIA paid informants (who had also served Saddam Hussein in the past). With Kerry, there is talk of involving other countries - but not Iraqi organizations. If I were from Iraq and had been working in opposition to Saddam Hussein for a quarter of a century, I would be angry to be excluded from discussions concerning the future of my country. I would be angry that those promoted to positions of power (such as Iyad Allawi) are people we have no reason to trust to further the interests of the Iraqi people as a whole.

As an American, I am distressed that the whole direction of our foreign policy is rarely, if ever, seriously fully discussed in the mainstream media. There are very intelligent, well-researched arguments that conclude that most U.S. foreign policy is designed not to further the interests of the people as a whole, but instead to further the interests of large business concerns. There is evidence that our foreign policy has contributed strongly to more poverty and less freedom throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Yet most Americans never explore these ideas in any detail.

To have a healthy democracy, we need to be involved constantly in thorough discussions and debates with as many viewpoints as possible represented.
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Joe Franklin, Red Stater 

Question Number Ten: Do you like the format for the debates? Is it a "real debate"? Do we ever learn significant things about the candidates from these debates? What would you rather see?

The mention of "da bait" in South Alabama brings thoughts of crickets, worms and fishing on the creek. It is kinda like "da fence." People think of net wire and barbed wire.

We don't have debates. We have discussions, arguments, heated arguments, cuss-outs and occasionally fights. I understand the presidential debate required teams of lawyers and a 32-page contract. If the difference of opinion among the common folk required preparation of a 32-page contract, Saturday nights at the county jail would be much quieter.

The idea of a contract brings to mind fights of young boys in elementary school. There was no biting, no hair pulling, no kicking, no scratching, no eye gouging, and no spittin'.

I've never had a debating course and have no regrets. The presidential debate format seems more like a staged, controlled, or scripted news interview or news conference.

The questions should come from those participating and not the commission or moderator.

I'd rather see more head-to-head action. As it is now, we learn who's the slick talker and who has the best make-up artist, hairstylist and manicurists.

Third-party candidates are virtually eliminated. Many commentaries and editorials refer to how equally divided this county is politically. I think the divisiveness of many elections would not be the case if third parties were included in our process. A viable third-party candidate can make Democrats and Republicans, alike, the party of big money. Does Democracy require a two-party system?

The Commission on Presidential Debates is neither nonpartisan or neutral. The Presidential Debates were stolen from the League of Women Voters years ago after their inclusion of thir-party candidates. We may have women's rights, but I can just imagine the alpha males (big dogs) of the Democratic and Republican parties meeting somewhere in a back room plotting to take control of the debates from the women, with all those alpha males sharing the idea, "We can't have this bunch of women running the presidential debate."

The most significant product of the debates are the one-line "zingers" that are repeated many times on news broadcasts and talk shows. These remarks leave a lasting impression where policy and rhetoric soon fade away.

I did learn that four of my neighbors went to sleep while watching the debates. The majority stated prior to the debates, "Heck no, I ain't watching no debate."

During the debates the candidates praise themselves, criticize the opponent, defend accusations made against them, and give no specifics as to what they will do for the voters. The debates are much too formal and stiff. Maybe this is why most voters find the spin shows more interesting. That's why the percentage of viewers for televised presidential debates has drastically declined in the past 40 years. These days, no one watches except pseudointellectuals, political sophisticates and party diehards.

I think that we should take a look at some of the old-fashioned political rallies, which included name-calling and finger-pointing. The promise of more action would interest more viewers, and perhaps my neighbors could stay awake.
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Cynthia Sneed, Red Stater 

Question Number Ten: Do you like the format for the debates? Is it a "real debate"? Do we ever learn significant things about the candidates from these debates? What would you rather see?

I would love to see Kerry adviser Mary Beth Cahill and Bush adviser Karen Hughes covered in Wesson Oil. James Carville and Laura Ingraham would moderate, and there would be no rules including the pulling of well-coifed hair!

I do not like the format of the debates at all. The rules border on insane, and the moderators are boring. And really, must we use a moderator from CBS? Can't we all agree that CBS needs serious group therapy before they continue as the "most trusted name in news"?

I am afraid the debates are going to be political speeches. We know what each candidate will say. In fact, we can all recite the speeches: "Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time; W stands for wrong” versus "terrorists are going to terrorize us unless we terrorize them first; F stands for flim-flam flip-flopper."

I wonder whether Bush will wear his beach sandals. I wonder whether Kerry will tone down the bright orange color of his overly processed chemical peel (I'm sorry, but I just do not believe he did that in a tanning bed; it looks like a deep chemical peel gone awry, and no, I am not going to discuss how I know but I do). If not, he had better be sending his valet (that is Yankee for "butler," guys) for some IGIA Spot Cover Concealer (available at your local Walgreens).

The candidates must wait for a cue from the moderator and then "proceed to center stage, shake hands and proceed directly to their positions behind their podiums" (is this the first time they have touched? Can Kerry keep from patting W's behind? Can W keep from patting Kerry on the head and nicknaming him "Flipper"?) Those lecterns must be set 10 feet apart and equally canted toward center stage, measuring 50 inches tall from the audience's view and 48 inches to the writing surface on the candidates' side. No risers, chairs or stools permitted. Apparently the ability to sit down is not a prerequisite to be president of the United States.

Jesus, Socrates and Cicero would be impressed. Imagine the Sermon on the Mount today - better yet, the "debate" between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness.

Now, Satan, we all know you slither, but remember to stand up straight - and Jesus, no hovering over Satan. The two candidates must look the same height to avoid unequal advantage.

The Bush campaign says that "the aim was to create an even playing field for the President, who has far less experience debating than his opponent, who is essentially a career debater. The other objective was to curtail grandstanding and filibustering, something many great debaters rely upon."

I have no doubt that Little Shrub can out-talk a telemarketer with a time limit and will have no problem holding his own against with the "nuanced" (that's French for "Who knows what the heck he is saying?") Kerry and also does not want to look like a midget compared to Lurch.

The cameras must stay fixed on the candidate answering the question, taking the only entertaining portion of the debate program from viewers. As it turned out, the networks, who did not sign on to the candidates' agreement, did not honor this rule.

No direct confrontation between the candidates and no moving from behind the podium. No room temps were specified. When it is warm, President Bush sweats like a pig in the pen, and when it is cold, John Kerry looks like a cadaver from Six Feet Under.

Likely the most devastating rule to Bush is on the delivery of speeches: "The manner of delivery shall be such that the speech will be comprehensible to the intelligent, educated, non-debating member of the general public." Well, Bush is sunk right there - must have been a Kerry requirement. The most devastating rule for Kerry will be that concerning the "use of pictures": "Charts or pictures will not have any weight as evidence in a round." This was the first time I've seen Kerry not surrounded by pictures of his Vietnam odyssey. Can he survive without his props?

All in all, these debates will be a waste of perfectly good hot air that could better be used in Florida to generate much-needed electricity. Should be fun!

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Bloggers from
Blue State (Pa.)

Terri Falbo

Born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Terri Falbo is a union organizer who has lived in Philadelphia for almost 30 years. She graduated from Temple University and previously worked as a construction worker for 17 years.

Tim Horner

Tim Horner grew up in Iowa, but has lived out significant chunks of his adult life in Chicago, IL and Oxford, England. He is married and has four children (14, 12, 10 and 7). Having grown up as an Evangelical in the Midwest and still a practicing Christian, he is concerned with how religion and politics mix. Because of a combination of circumstance and apathy, he has never voted in a presidential election. He currently teaches Humanities at Villanova University.
Bloggers from
Red State (Ala.)

Joe Franklin

Alabama native Joe Franklin, 58, was born in Pike County and grew up on a farm in Crenshaw County. He graduated from Troy State University in 1967. After working for 28 years with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles as a parole and probation officer, retired to Crenshaw County, which is just south of Montgomery, where he spends his days working on the farm.

Cynthia Sneed

Gadsden resident and local college professor Cynthia Smith Sneed has a doctorate in Accounting from the University of Alabama. Her fields of academic research are in state pension and employee benefit issues. She has been published in numerous academic accounting journals and has done research for the Alabama Policy Institute. She is a member of the American Accounting Association, Governmental Finance Officers Association as well as being active in the Republican Party.

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