Dems' bilingual debate 'a historic moment'
In the first TV debate of its kind, questions and answers will be translated as Democratic candidates face off on Univisión.
BY GLENN GARVIN
Would that 1984 presidential debate have been as memorable, or as decisive, if Walter Mondale had fixed Gary Hart with an exasperated glare and demanded: Dónde está el bistec? We could find out tonight when eight Democratic candidates square off in Miami in the first nationally televised debate en español.
In an acknowledgment of the explosive growth of Hispanic voters -- more than 16 million will be eligible to cast ballots in next year's election -- all the declared contenders for the Democratic nomination are joining in a debate sponsored by and televised on the Spanish-language network Univisión.
The candidates won't actually be speaking Spanish, a language most of them don't understand. Instead, questions and answers will be simultaneously translated.
''It's a great moment, a historic moment,'' says Maria Elena Salinas, who along with her fellow Univisión anchor, Jorge Ramos, will moderate the debate. ``The candidates will be speaking to the fastest-growing segment of American society. It's a sign of respect.''
It's also uncharted territory on the maps of both politics and television. Will the debate's novelty draw a bigger audience than the two million viewers who usually watch Univisión's Sunday-night reality shows? Or does boredom with public-affairs programming cross cultural lines?
Will the candidates engage in a lively, thoughtful exchange on issues like U.S. relations with Latin America that are rarely discussed in mainstream political forums? Or will they crack up on stereotypical assumptions that Los Angeles Chicanos and Miami Cubanos all think the same way about the issues?
Nobody knows. Which, a lot of people think, is a good thing.
''I'll certainly be watching with a good deal of curiosity,'' said David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief. ``It's been an interesting year of experimentation in debates. We've all recognized that the old rules are really rules, and we can reinvent debates. . . . A fresh look at the debate process, that's a good thing. It was a pretty stuffy old process.''
As the presidential campaign trail lengthens and debates multiply -- tonight's will be the 10th one televised this year -- organizers have gone to some exotic lengths to make each one stand out. There've been debates themed at black, gay and labor forums and even one built around videos submitted to the YouTube Internet site in which questions were asked by characters dressed as Vikings and snowmen.
''The more debates, the more creative the outlets,'' said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution think tank and a former speechwriter for California Gov. Pete Wilson. ``God forbid, there could even be an MTV debate at some point.''
Wouldn't that be LOVELY? A Presidential debate hosted by MTV. I wonder if they could book Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake for some sort of intermission halfway through? HMMMMMMMMMM.
So how did the debate go? Let's take a look at what the Washington Times has to say about how it went, shall we?
Panic in the press room
"Are we going to have audio?"
"Vamos a tener audio?"
Reporters who didn't speak Spanish were already anxious about the translation devices that didn't quite fit in our ears. (Porque soy de California, yo hablo un poquito Espanol.)
But 90 seconds before the forum began tonight, the Media Room had no sound - not in Spanish, English or French. Nada.
Spanish- and English-speaking reporters in the room erupted in a panic, sending University of Miami staff scrambling to try and fix the feed. What most reporters heard for the first 16 minutes of the debate was static - both from the closed television feed and from the translation device.
Even Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) seemed to have trouble, yanking the earpiece from his ear mid-way through his answer to a question on Iraq.
Isn't that just LOVELY? A HISTORIC moment. A complete and utter disaster. Barack Hussein Obama even got frustrated. I'm sure Hillary Clinton was cool as a cucumber. I don't know of much, other than Bill, that can perturb that ice queen...
Is this what we, the American people, want or deserve as our current and rising leadership? Do we want candidates and leaders who are interested in dividing our nation further by PANDERING to those divisions?
How is this something that unifies us as a nation? Can anyone answer that one for me? I would TRULY love to know.
Once and Always, an American Fighting Man
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