As Sen. John McCain attempted to sway undecided voters during Tuesday second presidential debate, his conservative views and attempts at humor failed to convince students watching in professor Larry Bensky's political science class.
Alternating between guffaws and mocking laughter, students seemed to be laughing at the Arizona senator, rather than laughing with him.
Admittedly, the classroom atmosphere was far different than other sessions as many students snacked on corn nuts, French fries and soft drinks. One student even walked in late with Chinese takeout.
Bensky, an adjunct professor at Cal State East Bay for the last 17 years, journalist and frequent radio host at Berkeley's KPFA, allowed students to participate on-air for post-debate analysis.
Chuck Maurer, a junior majoring in liberal studies, told KPFA:
“McCain was talking about energy independence, it think maybe it was important when gas prices were over $4 a gallon, but today the Dow just dropped about 508 points. I don't think it was really relevant to what Americans fear that they have today in terms of their 401k's or what the future may hold.”
Maurer went on to add his personal 401k account was “ about a 201k right now.”
I was laughing at him...McCain's lame attempts at humor were just that.
One contentious moment for the class came when McCain told moderator Tom Brokaw, “Social Security is that hard to fix.”
One student muttered, “Yeah, right,” while another blurted, “What is he talking about?”
Senior political science major Barbara Boje thrusted out her hands in exasperation specifically when she heard the name Ronald Reagan as part of McCain's explanation.
“Anybody that knows anything about the Reagan administration knows that was the beginning of the fall for social security,” said Boje, “My problem is that we don't need to reform social security, we need to protect social security.”
Some students found McCain's line, “We might be fighting countries that most Americans can't find on a map” to be condescending.
A woman with a “Rock the Vote” sticker affixed to her designer bag, muttered back, “maybe the ones who would vote for you.”
Boje believes the McCain camp knows it's on their last legs and looks desperate.
“I was laughing at him. For Obama, this is really the first time I saw how quick-witted he was and McCain's lame attempts at humor were just that.”
A student from San Francisco told KPFA that he found McCain's demeanor to be “socially awkward.”
Many mocked his two references to a $3 million projector that Obama supposedly brought home to Illinois as pork-barrel spending and moaned when McCain joked he might need a hair transplant in the future.
Others gasped when McCain starkly pointed towards Sen. Barack Obama and referred to him as, “That one.”
Most of Poli Sci 3310 was decidedly supporting Obama, yet the senator failed to illicit much response from the classroom other than a pointed jab at McCain.
The class specifically enjoyed Obama mocking McCain by saying “I think the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one.”
Bensky believes that the all-important youth vote for Obama will materialize this election cycle.
“Young people are going to vote much more this time around, unlike Kerry in 2004,” said Bensky, “There's a clear generation change going on here. The Bush presidency has been so unsuccessful and for 20-22 year olds, most of their life has been with President Bush."
He predicts young voters will turnout in proportion to the population and possibly higher.
Bensky does wonder why the signs of individual involvement in the election are not more apparent on campus.
“There's a lot more enthusiasm from young people, especially for Obama, but I haven't seen it translate to any campus activity,” said Bensky, “I've seen very few signs or tables around. There's still time to go, though.”