Kicker Mailbag: “The questions asked by Stephanopoulos and Gibson matter to voters”

In response to our Kicker post about Jon Stewart’s satirical analysis of the ABC debate—and to our general frustration with the questions asked of candidates during that debate—reader Mark Richard makes some interesting points:

I’m sorry, but the only people complaining about the ABC debate are transparently Obama supporters upset because he is finally getting tough questions that go to his weaknesses. Election history has demonstrated that the questions asked by Stephanopoulos and Gibson matter to voters. Cultural values are important—I mean, isn’t world politics currently driven by these differences with the rise of militant Islam?—and since cultural values generally put the Democrats at a disadvantage with voters, there is a mantra of ‘these aren’t the real issues’ when Obama starts to squirm.

The differences between Obama and Clinton on ‘the real issues’ as defined by the pro-Obama media are in fact miniscule. Another 20 minutes on the difference between Clinton’s health-care mandates and Obama’s more voluntary plan wouldn’t not have added much to what we know about the candidates. The issues upon which the Democrats want the election to focus have been hashed over time and again. Clinton and Obama are really fighting each other over the identity culture/electability issues that presently divide them and their constituencies. It is clear that questions decried by the disgruntled chorus of bloggers and other media people are in fact questions that have a heavy bearing on how swing voters assess whether or not a candidate is ‘on my side’. Obama is the Democratic front-runner, yet his ideological background is not well known to the average voter. I suspect the Obama supporters complaining about the ABC debate are worried that the more that is known about their man, the more voters will be alienated rather than won over, and that’s really the root of the matter.

Jon Stewart and others would never complain about moderators asking tough and persistent questions along the same lines of a Republican, i.e., do you support the flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina? What about your association with Rev. Hagee? Do you belong to any country clubs with discriminatory policies? (Charlie Rose grilled Bill Clinton intensively in 1992 for simply playing golf at a club with no black members, and was praised for his persistence.) McCain will get these questions in the general election; Obama is facing them now, which actually is doing him a favor.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.