The crowd watching the first presidential debate in Village C Alumni Lounge had at least one thing in common with the fans at a typical Hoya basketball game: Both groups of young, cheering students knew whom they wanted to win well beforehand. And they certainly weren’t looking for reasoned arguments. They wanted victory for their side at all costs.

As the debate moderator introduced Barack Obama, the students in the lounge erupted with fanatical cheers and enthusiasm. John McCain, by contrast, had only a few audible supporters, who clapped for only about two seconds in the presence of the majority, those who had come to see their candidate trounce John McCain and his elitist, ultra-conservative, ultra-uncool views.

Wait a minute – why were we there again? The hype and the media had promised me this was a debate, not a campaign rally. I knew why I had walked into the lounge. As an undecided Independent voter, I wanted to know whether Barack Obama could think on his feet, without a teleprompter, and account for his decision to vote against the surge that has brought apparent successes in Iraq. I wanted to know if John McCain was truly a “maverick senator,” or if he followed George Bush’s politics too closely for comfort. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to learn more about the candidates’ personalities and their long-term philosophies in an intimate way that the campaign trail usually does not allow.

Those surrounding me had different ideas. John McCain’s zingers were either ignored or mocked, whereas Barack Obama’s received loud applause. Perhaps the most disturbing reaction occurred at the end of the 90-minute debate, when McCain mentioned for the first time that his experience as a prisoner of war influenced his views on torture and the treatment of veterans. The entire lounge filled with venomous disdain and booing.

That’s right. Evidently, Barack Obama can repeatedly talk about community organizing (just what is that, anyway?) without anyone batting an eye, but John McCain cannot mention once during any debate his story of tremendous sacrifice as an American war hero without being bombarded by insults and guffawing from a roomful of college students. Not just any students, mind you – Georgetown students who, presumably, care enough about politics and the future of the country to spend more than an hour on a Friday night watching NBC for something other than “Heroes.”

For those of you wondering, yes, McCain’s mention of his horrific experience was relevant to the moderator’s initial question and also provided emotionally powerful evidence of his commitment to this country. While many criticize McCain for overusing this story, it is sad that young liberal students like these have become so partisan that they now reject any mention of his ordeal in any and all contexts whatsoever.

A professor I had for political theory once told me that he hoped the university would never hold a presidential debate because of the partisanship the event inevitably would bring out. Instead of treating the political debating process as a serious, thoughtful deliberation of the most important issues facing Americans, he said, too many students would treat it as a sporting event. When we allow ourselves to become blinded by this partisanship, we cheapen the entire political process. The consequences of whom this country elects to lead us for the next four years are far graver than the result of any basketball game, and we ought to treat our responsibility as such.

There is nothing wrong with having strong opinions and voicing them. These opinions, though, should be fair. Have the courage to admit when your candidate is wrong. Listen to what the other side has to say. A great resource for cutting through the political doublespeak that permeates the campaign season and the debates is FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes claims made by both campaigns throughout the year. It may surprise you how disingenuous your favorite candidate can be!

For example, during the debate, Obama inflated the number of people who would receive a tax break under his plan (from 81 to 95 percent) and falsely denied voting for a bill that would raise taxes on those making under $42,000 a year. Obama was correct, however, when he noted McCain has voted in accordance with George Bush’s views roughly 90 percent of the time, a troubling figure considering the events of the past eight years.

The lesson, then, is to temper your unrealistic enthusiasm. When you attend a presidential debate, do not treat it as a campaign rally and simultaneously deceive yourself into thinking you are really there to hear arguments on the issues. Instead of being closed-minded and prejudicial, approach the political season with a critical eye and a dose of healthy skepticism.

You just might learn something. And, hey, you can’t do that at a basketball game.

Gregg Re is a sophomore in the College and a news writer for THE HOYA.

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