I recently had the opportunity to cover my first debate as a journalist. It was to be held at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and involved Chet Culver, the current governor of Iowa, and Terry Branstad, former governor of Iowa. I was excited and a little nervous, not really knowing what to expect, how I should act, or even how I should dress.
My managing editor, Ryan, was going with me to photograph the event, so I felt better about it. If we screwed up, as least we would screw up together. But we didn’t, and we sailed through the crowd with confidence and poise. We situated ourselves in the third row so we could get as close to the candidates as we could. Lyle Muller, editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette had sent an e-mail indicating that photographers shouldn’t move around too much to avoid distraction, so Ryan scoped out various areas he could access easily.
So there we sat, waiting for the candidates to come in. Me, not sure at this point who I was supporting, Ryan, looking a bit out of place in his khaki shorts and tennis shoes. We discussed the use of the manual setting on the camera, talked about the local celebrities we saw filtering through the crowd, both of us commenting on the impending debate.
The auditorium was clearly divided in two; Terry Branstad’s supporters on the right side of Sinclair Auditorium, Chet Culver’s supporters on the left. The audience stood, cheering and applauding, as their respective candidates were announced. The mediators sat on stage, facing the candidates, with television screens situated at each end of the stage so the audience had a view of everything that was going on. To me it was an exciting moment.
Until the candidates began talking.
From the onset, Culver accused Branstad’s of broken promises, Branstad telling the audience about all the good things he did as a governor and how the state was fine when he left the office, as he drove Culver’s character into the ground.
But it wasn’t one-sided. Culver was sweating buckets as he retaliated, intensely repeated (repeatedly!!) how Branstad “cooked the books” and kept two books for the budget.
But this is how most politic races are run, by chastising the other, calling each other crooks and back-stabbers.
I have avoided politics in the past, not because I didn’t care about the state of our country, but because I didn’t trust anybody. They all make great promises, but once they are in office, they are often forgotten. Most of them are two-faced, whose agendas don’t always fit those of the people they are representing.
I know that I have to be somewhat interested in politics if I’m going to be a journalist. I have to be fair and show both sides of the story. Even if I don’t agree with it.
But I was almost embarrassed at some of the things that our two candidates were saying last night. Who cares what you did when you were governor, Terry? That was years ago. Should we believe all the nasty things Culver was saying that you did while you were governor? Did the rebuttals you threw back at him even do you justice? You didn’t even try to defend youself. All you did was try to come back with nasty comments of your own.
And what about you Chet? Do you feel that you have to resort to mudslinging to make your point, that you are the “better” man for the job? Do you think that people are going to want to vote for you after publicly trying to humiliate your opponent?
I guess I don’t know much about politics but I do know how to treat others. Politics changes people. It makes them mean and nasty. I don’t want to vote for anyone who feels like they have to resort to the kind of junior high-immaturity that I witnessed last night. It makes me sad that our politics have come to this. It makes me want to start my own political party. How about something like, “We the People” party? It sounds almost as good as the Tea Party.