I don't know about you, but I was ready for a breather from the presidential race after the lengthy and grueling primary season. The conventions were foregone conclusions, not to mention extreme hucksterism, and what has gone on since hasn't been much more edifying. But there are now fewer than six weeks left until Election Day. Time to re-engage.
The agents of our re-engagement, the co-authors of our presidential primer, Taking Sides, are two politically involved commentators who do not hide their own predilections. Rick Berg, former Madison school board member and mayoral candidate, not to mention a significant participant in the Republican Party, delivers a view from what we'll call the right, just because we need a dichotomy for this exercise. And then we'll say, in our arbitrary labeling scheme, that Ruth Conniff, political editor of The Progressive magazine, represents a view from the left.
These labels come in handy, because if you've been listening to the campaign pronouncements and watching the ads, it can be hard to tell just where the candidates disagree. I've been hearing a lot of talk from the Republican side about "choice." I thought "choice" was a bad word to Republicans, at least those with anti-abortion convictions. As for Obama, what's with the support of the latest wiretapping bill? And will either candidate approach the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout plan with anything shorter than a 10-foot pole?
We may begin to find out some of the answers in the coming series of presidential and vice presidential debates, for which Taking Sides sets the stage. The first takes place this Friday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. (assuming it's held) in Oxford, Miss., home to the University of Mississippi. This site was, not coincidentally, the focal point of the nation in 1962, when James Meredith became the first black student to attend the university, escorted by federal marshals. The historical irony of the first black presidential candidate of a major party engaging in debate there was not lost upon the Commission on Debates, the organizer.
A vice presidential tussle is scheduled next, on Oct. 2 in St. Louis. The Palin/Biden dust-up is sure to generate a lot of heat. Light? We'll see. The guys at the top of the tickets meet up again on Oct. 7 in Nashville. That one will be in McCain's preferred town hall format. The final debate, Oct. 15 in Hempstead, N.Y., will be in the head-to-head format again.
The race is currently deemed by the pollsters to be tight, but who can be sure that the polled are being candid about their racial calculations? And what about all those young cell-phone-only types, who confound the polls and who may or may not turn out on Nov. 4 to validate their version of "change"?