Sitting On The Fence

I read a fascinating article on Yahoo News about a young woman in Ohio who was monitored while watching the presidential debates. Though she thought Obama “won” the debate, given his “confidence and better grasp of policies,” she wasn’t particularly impressed by either candidate. Her name is Maggie O’Toole and she is still on the fence trying to decide which candidate will get her vote. Maggie is part of the “Millennial generation,” so-called; a somewhat independent voter who leans toward the Republican camp though, like many others in her generational group, she is disenchanted with the Republican social proposals regarding such things as gay marriage and abortion.

At one point in the article, Ms O’Toole was asked what would get her off the fence and her reply included this rather interesting comment:

With two more debates to go, what will it take for O’Toole to make a decision?

“Maybe just [for] one of them to terribly screw up and have a Sarah Palin moment where one of them proves to be inept,” she says.

If anyone doubts what I have been saying about the TV debates and their value as entertainment (borrowing from Neil Postman), this comment should seal the deal. Clearly, this woman is more interested in seeing how the candidates perform on TV than she is in thinking about how they would perform in office. Where has she been for the past several months? Mitt Romney has had several “Palin moments” off-camera where he has proven himself to be “inept.” His comments to a group of well-healed Republicans about the poor in this country (which he is trying mightily to take back as I write this blog) and his foot-in-mouth gaffes in England during the Olympics and more recently after the killings in Libya would comprise “Palin moments” in most people’s minds I would think.

But Maggie O’Toole, like so many others, apparently does not follow the news or read excellent blogs like those of the “old fart.” She is waiting to see something happen in one of the three 90 minute debates that will decide the issue for her. And she is supposedly a well-educated person (as we loosely define “education” these days), a “20-something professional” who is a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm while currently working on her MBA. Needless to say, she wants to see which of these two men will turn the economy around. But one has to ask what she expects to see in 180 minutes of TV watching that will change her mind?

Neil Postman was absolutely right: we live in the age of entertainment. We have short attention spans and base our decisions largely on how we feel about things rather than what we think about things. There are a great many people like Maggie O’Toole who still sit on the fence waiting for a strong wind to blow them one way or the other. Her time would be better spent checking on the records of the two men and looking behind the words and the TV impressions to get a better grasp of what one or the other of these men will do in the coming years to help the country regain its footing, nationally and internationally.

The remarkable thing here is not that there are a great many undecided people like Maggie O’Toole, but that there are so many people who will weigh heavily in their deliberations the performance of a man on camera exchanging bromides, zingers, and slogans with his opponent  — voters who apparently wait to see how these men perform three times on TV before they begin to decide who is worthy of their vote. But then, perhaps that is better than those who vote without even watching the debates or bothering to think about what these men have done thus far in their respective political careers.


18 thoughts on “Sitting On The Fence

  1. Great post. I love how you discussed “entertainment value” here. I find the notion quite disturbing that for people like O’Toole, politics is as good a “game” to watch and vote on as CBS’s Big Brother.

  2. Hugh, thanks for the shout out. I agree with your comments. Bill Maher had Frank Luntz guru of appealing to the low information voter as his first guest last night. He is credited with much of the conservative PR wordsmithing that goes on. I don’t know what to do about the Maggie’s of the world, much less the people who get dis- and mis-information and don’t know it is just that. Maybe, we can work with one of your former students to have a Twitter account for Factoids – “Factoid of the day – 97% of scientists say global warming is here; only 26% of Republicans in Congress agree.” or ” Factoid of the Day – Six non-partisan economists say the Obama stimulus did not fail and saved us from a depression creating 2.5 millon jobs.” I am not a tweeter and don’t intend to be one, so if you know someone. Jenni will have better ideas than me on this. Thanks for the great posts. BTG

  3. Being young, thoughtful, and a voter is too often an oxymoron these days. But I guess I’d rather have them ar least vote than stand idly by, claiming their vote didn’t count.

    • I’m not at all sure about that. I have problems with people doing blind voting. I would almost prefer that they stay away.


  4. Of course, that would mean a lot of blind voters staying home. There is a joke in here about the blind leadiing the blind, but that would be too trite, would it not. There are too many politicians who need sunglasses and a cane given their inability to see what they don’t know.

  5. …”There are a great many people like Maggie O’Toole who still sit on the fence waiting for a strong wind to blow them one way or the other.”…

    People like this are the least of our worries. They might as well be potted plants.

    [“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” said Broun, who is an MD. …You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them.”…]

    (Broun is a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee, of which Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) is also a member.)

    NOW, if you want to talk about “Fence sittin” …Broun is running for reelection unopposed, the AP reports.

  6. We need to encourage people to read Vincent Mudd’s website, where he looks at 18 measures of whether we are better off than four years ago. Not to steal his punch line, but the answer is yes we are. Obama can actually run on his economic record, irrespective of the loudly banged drum from the right. The dilemma is how do you get that real data heard over the loud drum beating.

      • With all due respect gentlemen, anyone who doesn’t “yet” have enough information to make up their minds is as close to brain dead as a person can get and still dress themselves. Unfortunately for us all this IS NOT a contest of who has the better ideas, plans and intentions. This is an appeal to the “beliefs” of the voters, NOT to their ability to assess cold facts. This is about emotions, not job reports. is a nice site, and informative too. But, it is meaningless to people who KNOW Obama hates America and is out to destroy “capitalism”, take away our guns and institute “Sharia Law”. They KNOW Obama is a liar and to an already dissociated mind, facts, like the ones presented on the website above, just go to show how dangerous that damn lying [insert N word] is. Think TMT gentlemen! All Old Magic Underpants has to do is keep reminding voters how bad & dangerous things are and voters will tend to increase their fear & rejection of “The Other”. Unless Obama can accurately (at least in MY mind) portray Mitt is the REAL “other” he may very well be a one term president.

      • You’re right: Obama has to get it in gear. It is astonishing to see how the Romney camp is able to manipulate voters with fear-mongering. It’s not new, but it is rapidly becoming an art of sorts. They are very good at it!


  7. Hi Hugh and BTG! Great post. You are so right. It amazes me that peoplecan still be undecided. I was with friends this weekend and we were saying the same thing. I am a little stumped here too. You could tweet factoids, as BTG suggests, but it is hard to stand out in the twitterverse unless you spend a lot of time and energy. I think community gatherings to discuss the issues of the day could be cool. There could be brief objective presentationson where the candidates differ and thought-provoking questions for discussion. I just think this has to be done on a personal basis by people who are already respected by their peers and fellow community members. That could be a cool idea for a non-profit,, to generate these kinds of discussions, etc. You could even include debaate-watching as an activity, where the group could discuss just the issues Hugh raises here. Thanks for making me think, as usual!!!

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