The debate between the democratic candidates running in the American presidential elections of 2008 was an extraordinary event in comparison to previous debates in the history of American elections. This debate, the first of its kind, which was organized by CNN and Youtube has undoubtedly ushered in a new era in the political history of modern media.
The democrats were faced with 39 out of a total of 3000 questions that Youtube received and were aired via a giant screen enabling voters across the United States and the whole world to ask questions directly to candidates.
In this vital debate, the importance of questions and the identity of those who asked the questions exceeded the significance of the answers. Diverse issues were raised from political concerns to personal grievances as well as health and environmental matters. Some of the questions, though comical, were able to reveal many aspects of the candidates’ personalities and made them feel that they are facing a real test that could overthrow them and their ambitions if they fail to convince the voting public and viewers with their arguments and if they give off the impression that the candidates have prepared their answers.
The people who called in to ask questions ranged from a father who had lost his son in Iraq who asked whether he have to lose another, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer who argued whether her chances of recovery would be better if she had health insurance to a homosexual couple enquiring as to why they are not allowed to marry.
The live television debate which lasted for more than two hours was also broadcast via the Internet where users were able to assess the performance of the candidates. Until now, analysts are busy assessing the performances of the eight contestants and it seems that Senator Hillary Clinton came out on top in opinion polls. It is clear to anyone who followed the debate that there is a new horizon that looms in the field of political media; partnerships between a major television network such as CNN and [websites such as] Youtube have enabled ordinary people and voters with all kinds of concerns to embarrass candidates and ask about real issues that affect voters in everyday life.
The debate, which was an important model for modern political media, will be repeated next month with the participation of Republican candidates this time and will continue to take place until the end of presidential elections next year.
There is no doubt that our admiration and surprise regarding what has been achieved by the internet-television partnership in the field of political debate in the West will soon transform into frustration when we remember, for example, that presidential elections will be held in Lebanon in less than two months whilst the Lebanese remain unaware of who will even be running for the first position in the country. Certainly, the Lebanese the elections will take place as though the event is the concern of people on the other side of the earth.
Discussions about debate and questions directly posed by the public is certainly a luxury that appears elusive, not only in Lebanon but in the entire region.