Monday, October 17, 2011

Going To The Candidates' Debate

HARBESON: There’s some debating it

SELLERSBURG — When I heard that Leadership Southern Indiana and the News and Tribune planned to host debates for the three local mayoral races, I decided I would attend the entire series.

Yes, considering my aversion to politics and government in general, I know it seems strange to put myself in such a position but my reasoning is sound — I was looking for a challenge, a truly physically draining endurance event to test my fortitude.

What could be better than putting myself through several hours of listening to politicians make promises while simultaneously breathing in the stifling authoritarian air inside compulsory funded government schools?

The first debate was in New Albany, where four candidates were running, but no incumbent. As I meandered into the auditorium, I felt like I was entering a church — the lights were dimmed and the audience was strangely quiet.

Maybe it was the church-like atmosphere but the entire debate seemed equally subdued. After a while, the candidates blended together and I couldn’t differentiate one dark suit from the next. I lost attention and must confess I slipped out early.

I realized this was going to be harder than I thought and I would need to train harder if I was going to build up enough endurance for two more debates. So I stepped up my training, chaining myself to a chair and listening to every political debate I could find online.

The second debate in Jeffersonville was much easier, but I’m not sure it had anything to do with my training. There was a definite energy in the air, as if people were gathering for a big fight. I attribute this to the “throw the bum out” element that is usually present in any race that includes an incumbent.

Another difference in this debate may have been that the LSI host forgot to mention the “no applause” rule in his opening remarks which gave some audience members an excuse to forget they weren’t supposed to applaud. Even so, most of the time audience members respected the no applause request.

But the audience still needed a way to expend energy and they found it in the head bob. Sitting in the back of the auditorium, I could easily observe which candidate individual audience members supported by watching them aggressively nod in agreement. There was so much vigorous head bobbing during this debate that I bet Jeffersonville’s chiropractors experienced a boost in business the next day.

So thanks to incumbency and the head bobbers, I successfully made it through this entire debate. Since the challenge was now two-thirds complete and knowing the Charlestown mayoral race also had an incumbent, I didn’t bother to do any further training.

As expected, when I entered the auditorium in Charlestown I could feel a serious energy level. But it wasn’t just the incumbency factor — this race was also the only two-candidate race, which increases the “us” versus “them” energy.

The host remembered to request no applause and the audience respected that request at first. But as the debate wore on, I could tell that head bobbing alone was not going to handle the pent-up energy in that room and by the time the last couple of questions were asked, the audience finally erupted.

The most rabid applauders seemed to not really be supporting a candidate’s position as much as they were angrily smacking their hands together against the opponent, a strange act that I can only describe as applause assault.

I came out of this experience with two insights. First, I now know I can do anything I set my mind to and second, most debate attendees are not undecided voters gathering information — they are supporters providing cheerleading services for their candidate.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson noticed how well the debate timekeeper’s paddle fan worked to get politicians to stop talking and now wants one of her own.

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