Community Columns

Q's as important here as A's

Those who end up dissecting the political points and personal styles displayed in Monday's CNN YouTube debate didn't watch it like I did.

Many writers nationwide, like the two others on this page, are focusing on the policy statements, the campaign ploys and political theater. That it drew most of its questions from people sitting in front of their computers has been treated as some sort of gimmick.

If it is a gimmick, it's a gimmick that works.

I've never visited YouTube and I didn't sit down Monday night intending to watch the debate. My real plan was to take a peek at the debate, then switch as soon as I could to the Giants. That never happened. This turned out to be better TV; better entertainment; better competition. There's been no political debate like it.

I wasn't the only one engrossed.

My daughter, newly 18 and newly registered to vote, sat between her mother and me and described the "debater's tricks" she spotted Barack Obama and Joe Biden using. And my son, barely 16, at first looked up from a game on the nearby computer only rarely. But as more of the questions came onscreen, he looked up more often. Eventually, he abandoned his game and hit the recliner.

This was a truly democratic Democratic debate. More than 3,000 video questions were submitted. These were real people — one with cancer, several with pain in their hearts, some with goofy senses of humor, many with bones to pick and ideas to share — asking real questions and demanding real answers. Those who couldn't provide real answers — who tried to sidestep the questions — were exposed.

That happened to all the candidates at one time or another. More often, these very real questions allowed the candidates to connect to the people who asked them and to those other real people sitting in living rooms watching. And a lot of us were. Nielsen Media Research said 2.6 million viewers tuned in; it was the highest rated debate among those in the 18-34 age group ever.

Writers more interested in political minutiae can anoint the winners and lament the losers. My family found this debate interesting (Mike Gravel is like a crazy uncle), engaging (John Edwards must scare those big-money corporations) and even hopeful (Hillary Clinton does have what it takes to be president).

If the next debate, for Republicans in September, is even half as good, we'll be watching again.

Dunbar can be reached or 578-2325.