September 18, 2012

Presidential Debate Prep

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Although Cornellians face the year-round stress of cramming for presentations and assessments, every election cycle a chosen pair shares in our experience for a few weeks.

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are diligently studying one another’s platforms and histories in preparation for a series of televised debates. The candidates will face off on October 3, 16 and 22 in Colorado, New York and Florida.

Both candidates are working to shore up their talking points and debate skills amidst busy schedules. Romney continues to hit the campaign trail while Obama has a country to manage. Both have hired private tutors (debate coaches) and have taken practice exams — Sen. John Kerry (debating as Mitt Romney) for President Obama and Sen. Rob Portman (Obama) for Governor Romney.

Just as Cornell students have to keep their reports an appropriate length and on-topic, the President’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod has worked on getting Obama to “speak shorter” as “part of the discipline for preparing for these debates.” Even Reuters has picked up on the school analogy, with writer Jeff Mason commenting in his recent article that “President Barack Obama is cramming like a student for a test that could determine his political future.” But Obama isn’t cramming like any run-of-the-mill student — he’s cramming like a Cornell student.

If this comparison seems like a stretch, give it a chance. Like many of the students so privileged to walk Cornell’s campus, the presidential candidates are privileged to be at the forefront of the political sphere, not to mention generally blessed in education and wealth.  But we’re not talking about Harvard here (although both candidates did attend its law school). Cornell students consistently face the pressure of stiff curves and only marginal grade inflation — popularly termed “grade deflation.” Cornellians know that motivation begets progress, but also understand that sometimes, in the short-term, opportunity can be a zero-sum game. As arriving freshmen are exposed to unprecedented levels of prestige and competition, so are the candidates during this election cycle.

So Cornellians, just as you’ve survived spring prelims, the candidates have trudged through spring primaries. Now the final exam is approaching, and the study period has begun. Candidate Romney is learning, and President Obama re-learning, how to walk a mile in your shoes. Both candidates must budget their time, explore extracurricular routes to success, and balance business with … more business. Their reward? A better chance of snagging that much-wanted job opportunity — the one with all those bells and whistles. But remember, this exam is curved — only one person can get an “A.” Let it be known that even the most powerful, privileged men in the free world never stop cramming.

Original Author: Chris Mills