The Hermetically Sealed Presidential Debate

Heading into the final month of campaigning, John McCain is showing signs of desperation. His aides have announced that they cannot talk about the economy or they will lose. So they are resorting to personal smears and distractions. Sarah Palin is doing her part by associating Barack Obama with controversial figures from the past that he had little to do with.

All of this makes the stakes for tonight’s debate much higher for McCain who is falling farther behind in both national and state polls. But the debate format pretty much excludes any possibility for either candidate to make any significant movement.

The questions will from a group of allegedly uncommitted voters in the audience and on the Internet. Then moderator Tom Brokaw will select the actual questions the candidates are asked. There will be no follow-up questions from either the questioner or Brokaw. There will be no reaction shots following the answers. The candidates must stay within their “designated areas” and may not directly question each other.

Given these rules, I don’t why they even need to be in the same room. The format prevents any real interaction. This debate promises to be no more enlightening than a series of alternating clips of each candidate’s stump speech. The candidates can ignore the questions without repercussions, and their answers will never be challenged in a way that makes them accountable.

Designing the debate in this manner is a disservice to voters who will not get to see how the participants perform when challenged. It was negotiated months ago by representatives of the campaigns who obviously feared putting their candidate into a situation that could harm them politically. As it turns out, it will be a big advantage for Obama because it is McCain who needs to make a mark if he hopes to stop Obama’s momentum. This format will make that much more difficult for McCain.

Consequently, I predict that nothing of note will happen tonight, and McCain will hit the trail tomorrow with more and louder accusations and slander. He and Pit Bull Palin have much better luck manipulating the press at their rallies. They have even taken to corralling the media into virtual cages, not allowing them access to the candidate or even their supporters.

You can smell their fear. But so can the viewers, voters and the press. This election is all but over.