Saturday, September 27, 2008

What's Wrong with being "Professorial"?

In the commentary before and after last night's debate, some argued Obama needed to not sound "too professorial." I even had one of my students making the same point. As a professor, I had to wonder, what is so bad about sounding like a professor? I realized from the context that they associated professorial with being long-winded and abstract.

I feel the need to defend my profession against these slanderous attacks. Professor's must take difficult concepts and explain them with clarity and precision--not an easy task. Sometimes we do this well; other times we do this poorly. But, it certainly isn't a poor training ground for a presidential debater. Actually, I recommend teaching US government to college freshmen (a task I'm familiar with) to anyone preparing for a presidential debate.

Now, for my thoughts on the debate: Obama did better in the first half of the debate when they were answering questions about the economy. McCain looked dull and did not do a good job answering Obama's attacks. Though, I would've liked to see Obama offer some specific programs that he would cut in tough economic times, as McCain did; and both candidates seemed conflicted (the same word I used to describe my own position) about the $700 billion buyout plan.

When the debate moved to foreign policy, McCain looked a lot more comfortable and displayed more spunkiness. He obviously had a two-fold strategy of showing his experience in foreign policy by talking about the foreign leaders he knows personally and the places he has been, and showing Obama's inexperience by saying things like "Obama doesn't understand..." (which he did several times). McCain may have seemed condescending at times, but overall I think the strategy was effective. On the other hand, Obama didn't make any major blunders and came across as knowledgable and presidential. Since this was expected to be Obama's weakest debate and he got through it OK, the Obama camp should be happy with the results.

Also, there were a few moments where both candidates expressed their position with clarity and precision. In other words, they were professorial, which is a good thing.


karenwalker said...

Obama is too professorial but what choice does he have? I miss that inspiration that we all saw in 2004 at the convention. It was this charisma that propelled Obama into this race. Once in, he could never, ever be associated with Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton. Even his own running mate said, "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," ... "I mean, that's a storybook, man." This “storybook man” must always be on guard. He danced on the Ellen Degeneres show. In my heart, I will always hope that he went home and danced like Hugh Grant in Love, Actually.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, there is a problem with coming across as too professorial in a presidential debate. Professors lecture. Voters want to see a candidate answer questions with direct clarity. Too much rambling on a topic does not compare to a direct, firm response.