Political football

  • Jon Kelly
  • 27 Sep 08, 06:56 AM GMT

The University of Mississippi's students had a good excuse for a party. It's not every day that the main candidates for the White House show up on your campus, after all.

As Senators Obama and McCain slugged it out in the presidential debate, hundreds of young voters were watching on an outdoor big screen just yards away. Never mind Spin Alley, this was where the real action was.

It was a boisterous, good-natured crowd. Obama would score a point, and his supporters would cheer and wave their placards. Then McCain would land a blow, and his fans would roar their approval too.

geoff203.jpgI really enjoyed the atmosphere. It made me want to attend a Mississippi Rebels game.

And I was impressed with the level of engagement. I can't imagine so many British students showing such passion for Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

But in a crowd this partisan, this was never going to be about weighing up the respective merits of the candidates. It was college football by other means.

On one hand, you had Geoff Brown, 22, who was holding up an Obama poster when we got chatting.

McCain hadn't offended Geoff. But the Democratic candidate was pressing all the right buttons for him.

"I'm loving Obama tonight," he smiled. "He's talking about all the things that affect people in Mississippi - jobs, the economy, healthcare.

"OK, I'm partisan. But these are the issues that win people over."

But then you had someone like Ashley Durkee, a 25-year-old clinical psychology graduate student.

She'd already been leaning towards McCain before the debate. And the Republican's robust stance on the military had pushed her further into his column.

"This is his area," she added. "I would have expected him to do well on these issues, and I thought he was impressive.

"I feel like his idea about national security and how to keep the country strong were really convincing. Obama didn't match him."

Throughout the crowd, the pattern repeated itself.

Jacquelyn Brubaker, 27, was another spectator whose views were already well-entrenched.

The Bush years had not been kind to Jacquelyn. She had earned two degrees - a Bachelor's in social work, and a Master's in education - but was working in a bar in Oxford because it paid better than the roles for which she was qualified.

"America's ready for change," she said. "Obama talked about investing in things like education, moving our troops from Iraq to Afghanistan - this is what we need right now.

"John McCain continues to prove that he's out of touch with the American people."

At the same time, though, there was Matthew McDowell, 28. Majoring in physics after serving in the Navy, Matthew left the debate with exactly the opposite impression.

"I think they're both impressive performers," he said. "But with Obama, it's about giving a speech.

"With McCain, it's about delivering facts - his voting record, what he's done in the past. That's what resonates with me."

You can credit Obama's charisma, McCain's gravitas or Sarah Palin's appeal to the Republican base. But in Mississippi, at least, I don't think either candidate will lose because of lack of enthusiasm among their core voters.


  • Comment number 1.

    Barack need not allow McCain beat up on him about the war in Iraq. McC's obvious smuggness and gloating needs to be countered by remembering the thousands of young Americans and hundreds of Brits etc who have lost their lives not to mention the tens of thousands of the innocent local population. Furthermore it is debateable in human terms if any of the wars of the last 60 years were 'won' by the USA.

    Finally is all McCain as President got to say to Putin you are no more than a KGB old boy (I cannot imgine what Palin would say!.)It seems that all his experience has done is imprison him in the politics of the last century.
    I suggest a new campaign slogan for him (with apologies to Robert Zemeckis) - "Forward to the Past"

  • Comment number 2.

    I am enjoying seeing these young people getting involved. Don't care which one they support, just glad to see them involved.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good post. I hope you get to a football game this weekend. Looks like your trip has already changed the political landscape of New Mexico. See that is what happens when a man says the truth. Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 4.

    I keep wondering if McCain is really more concern about how his people live,or he trying to finish what "Republican" has started (iraq war and so on) which can never be finished.The future of the America does not lie in fighting against terriosm,but make a home for all.Obarack has show how capable he was in the debate in handling the crisis rocking the american economy.
    I hope the american would do the right thing on Nov 4.

  • Comment number 5.


    You are right about british students not getting that worked up about politics in GB.

    Even you have to admit that they are pretty sedate over there.

    American college kids look at themselves and KNOW they our the future, the continuation of the dream that is America; They are part of it and are willing to help shape it.

    As always when I post.."Good job Laddie"

    (I do that because my grandmum was Scot, I heard it very rarely)

  • Comment number 6.

    Obama mentioned the middle class and working poor a number of times. McCain did not say the words "middle class" once. McCain reinforced his platform of strong military and free markets (Reaganomics 101). Obama reinforced his desire to grow the ecomony from "the bottom up" shifting tax breaks that favor the wealthy to tax breaks that help the middle class and working poor. The contrasts were stark. Major change in all policies vs. mostly the same policies with some very specific reforms.

    Americans have a clear choice.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think that one reason we college students get relatively worked up is that we vote for our leader, rather than our leader being the head of the majority party.

  • Comment number 8.

    Those who had already made their choice before the debate can take comfort in the fact that their candidate made a respectable showing. What is more important is how voters who have been genuinely undecided until now feel today. If they were having misgivings about either candidate, did the debate leave them feeling more or less comfortable with candidate? That's where the election will be decided.

  • Comment number 9.


    I think politicians ought to finish what they started. That is one of the failures of politics: not doing/finishing their promises.

    As an African brother of mine just said earlier today: Politicians campaign problems and how the can solve them, but when they're in, they don't solve them because they need to leave problems for the next campaign to shout about.

    I think the war in Iraq has a finish line (economics permitting) when the next presidential term. Over half of Iraq is completely in Iraqi military/police control and further handovers are happening soon (November to March). No, we aren't going to accomplish utopia in Iraq, but if we can hand all duties to Iraqi military while keeping stability and democracy alive and healthy, that is absolute victory. No, we can't blanket out all terrorist attacks, but we can have victory if the world's citizens aren't afraid to travel. The last thing we need is a president who will give up due to popular opinion.

    On topic,
    I'm glad my peers care about the leadership of our nation. Surely this is an all-time high for youth participation. This also me first election to be able to participate in.

    All I can say is (as the article points out) just because you're young, you don't necessarily need to be voting for Obama. For me, I was brought up to respect people who have experienced and successfully dealt with problems. Of course Obama tickles my ears on certain issues and for his superior charisma, but he hasn't used the power he has been given (his non-voting record) where he is now, what make me believe he is more than a mouthpiece for parties hard-core? We Americans don't vote in a Party as our leadership, but an Individual. Obama needs to get more experience under his belt before he gets my vote. I'd vote for Ron Paul before I vote for him.

  • Comment number 10.

    I just hope those that say they like McCain's grasp of the "facts" take the time to actually check them; and not just accept what they have heard at face value, because it's what they hoped to hear. Major newspapers (New York Times for one) and TV commentators are now calling him a liar - which is pretty serious. Doesn't that raise any doubts?

    As for his judgement, he picked Gov. Palin as his running mate. The poor woman is so far out of her league that it's pitiful. Wasilla, where she was a two term mayor, is a small, hick town of 7000 with an annual budget less of than $12.7 million. My own village is approximately the same size, with a bigger budget, and our mayor easily governs it part time while also running a large business as his full time job. Wasilla was no big challenge.

    Anyone who thinks she's ready to run the country if it becomes necessary, needs their heads examined.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think both McCain and Obama did well handling themselves in the debate last night, but I didn't feel it was a true debate with point-counterpoint and the candidates engaging each other. They both were "on message" for their parties and there weren't any big surprises or interestnig exchanges.

    However, I'm with gadfly-girl. McCain lost my respect when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. It conveyed arrogance to me because he squandered the value of the vice presidency by choosing someone who is clearly not worthy of the office in terms of experience. He chose to create a media circus rather than team with a seasoned politician and civil servant who could help him run the country.

    This tells me he thinks he can run it on his own and doesn't really care about the skills his VP brings to the office. That's OFFENSIVE to my intelligence, to his party, to the American people.

  • Comment number 12.

    '...a Bachelor's in social work, and a Master's in education...' complaining that work in a bar pays better, and voting for Obama.

    It may sound cruel to say, but social work jobs (if available) are very low-pay/high-burnout. A Master's in Education generally qualifies the student for Nothing in Particular, save a place somewhere in the state's educational system(which miserably fails to educate).

    The restaurant job pays better, because the restaurant provides a product/service for which people happily pay.

    The Social Work/School Administration jobs are paid with funds forcibly wrested from taxpayers, who would never willingly pay for the activities these jobs entail, or the results they obtain.

    So, it sounds like she wishes Senator Obama to prevail, in hopes that he and his will be able to wrest more tax dollars, and use them to fund the jobs described above.

    But, given this week's events...where's he gonna find the money?

    She might consider a career in restaurant management, and perhaps eventually open her own establishment.

    She can make very good money, and donate her time and resources to effectively uplifting the down-fallen and ignorant.

    She can create jobs(the most effective means of uplift!), endow scholarships, tutor students as a volunteer, encourage others to do the same.

    She need not wait for BHO to exercise her gifts in the world at large.

  • Comment number 13.

    From Jon's article: "Jacquelyn Brubaker, 27, was another spectator whose views were already well-entrenched.
    The Bush years had not been kind to Jacquelyn. She had earned two degrees - a Bachelor's in social work, and a Master's in education - but was working in a bar in Oxford because it paid better than the roles for which she was qualified."

    Jacquelyn's views and voting preference are her own, I'm not disputing that at all.
    What seems odd to me is the choices that she made, which conflict with the reality of those choices.

    Bachelor's in social work and a Master's in education. That's at the very least 6-8 years worth of college education.
    I have two children in college, so I know that universities do their best to keep students mentally bubble-wrapped against the reality of the adult-functioning world and work place (where life is not fair and your choice of degree DIRECTLY affects the salary you will make).

    Jon states that the Bush years had not been kind to her, which is rather vague since she (assumedly) spent the majority or large part of those years earning her degrees. Did she spend these college years also working a full-time job and therefore is upset about her tax rate? Unlikely. Most college students, if they have jobs at all, are generally part-time which would equal a very low tax bracket. Did she have investments that were harmed by Bush policies? Like I said, the statement is discouragingly vague.

    Even if Jacquelyn was earning her degrees in the vaccuum packed security blanket of college, did she never learn in the course of her life that the professions of social work or teacher were not the highest paying salaries one could choose? "Kindness" has nothing to do with it; your degree(s) translate to your market value.

    "...the roles for which she was qualified..."
    Did she not investigate her choice of career options when choosing her majors? Obama was not on the political radar during her college years, so was she playing an educational gamble that "someone" would hold the office of President someday and affect the salary rates of social workers and teachers across the US? My daughter is finishing her Master's in Education next year; she made her choice knowing full well the salary limitations, but like so many others she chose teaching because she is passionate about it. Her eyes are wide-open when looking to future salary options of a Master in Education in the adult working world.

    As I said, Jacquelyn's voting choice is her own. I respect that. I just don't understand her logic in the blame she is placing for her own educational choices. Or is Jon assuming all of this because Jacquelyne is choosing the bar over the salary options of her degrees?

  • Comment number 14.

    I find it interesting just how little importance is placed on education vs. entrepreneuralship. If you look down the list of countries that excell in giving their children a good education, and offer breaks for advanced education you will find that they rank the highest in all tests, all across the board. It's easy to turn around and say 'Everyone for themselves' but the fact is that the children are our future, and I personally would prefer to have someone looking after me in my old age who has not only an education, but also the background of 'community' and caring in them. Not one who lives for a dollar and having more toys than the next person. Until the world comes to realise that we all need one another we'll continue to have conflict and wars. "A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens". Look around your own countries as you would the mirror and be honest with yourselves...... I have.... and I'm ashamed that we spend too much time trying to get the other guys money and not enough time and effort on those less fortunate.

  • Comment number 15.

    My husband has never voted for a President.

    He'll participate in local gov, support senators or representatives, but the Presidents have always felt like puppets of their parties, of the rich white upper class, of The Oppressive Man...

    But, from what I can tell - folks are waking up. Minorities and disenchanted 20's-30's folks are registering to vote, wearing pins...

    It's been very fun to watch.

    Of course, I've still heard about more fist fights over Football and Hockey than Presidential Politics... but give it a few weeks. Things could still heat up.

  • Comment number 16.

    GoonerPetronius #6,

    I agree with the dichotomy you present.
    And, I hope that us Americans are catching wind to that effect.
    - but is the word getting out?

    You may not realize, but our news media are kind of lame.

    I still feel like I haven't seen they critical stats about this election. I've seen support counts among polled persons... but I wonder about
    a) undecided Americans
    b) Americans who still don't give a hoot

    Of those groups who actually follow the presidential race, I am not surprised it's tied.

    But, once we get the attention of folks who have given up on the vote and we show them the candidates and their platforms, then the 'swing vote' could start to rock.

    PS: I had read your tag and thought of "Gomer Pyle"... but if you're referring to those "Americans," then perhaps you're overseas?

  • Comment number 17.

    World Wide Ryan (#9)-

    you mention that 'not all young people need to vote for Obama'.
    -- true

    you mention that 'Obama needs more experience before you'll vote for him.'
    -- you're entitled to you're opinion

    But let me note:
    I've followed Obama since he won the Senate, was excited to hear he might explore a presidential race... and bummed out when his popularity carried him to the fore of the Democratic surf. I guess his Hawaiian youth helped him catch the wave and ride it all the way.

    But, i've been worried. He's a great candidate, but Americans (young and old) worry about youthful inexperience.

    I know, I made the same mistake with Regan. I figured - gosh, just because a candidate is older doesn't mean he's inept, right?
    And just 'cause I'm young doesn't mean I need to vote against him, right?

    Regan's 'trickle down' economy was a significant contribution to the global financial nightmare we're in.


    Please, don't make the same mistake I made.

    Research the platforms, research the facts, consider ALL of the possible options, outcomes and opportunities.

    Personally, I'm not just SICK of Ray-gun-omics, I srsly can't afford another term like this. I have kids to feed.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites