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Town Hall Debate is Virtually Education-Free

By Alyson Klein — October 07, 2008 1 min read
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None of the undecided voters from Tennessee, nor moderator Tom Brokaw, using questions submitted over the Internet, chose to ask John McCain and Barack Obama about education during Tuesday night’s town hall-style debate.

Obama did sneak in a mention of schools in a question from Brokaw about how his administration would prioritize energy, health care, or entitlement spending on Social Security and Medicare in its first two years. The Illinois senator and Democratic presidential nominee put energy first, health care second, and ignored the entitlement issue in favor of education.

“We’ve got to deal with education so that our young people are competitive in a global economy,” Obama said during the 90-minute session at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

On the same question, McCain, the Arizona senator and Republican nominee, said he thought that “you can work on all three at once,” meaning energy, health care, and entitlements, not necessarily education.

Obama linked the troubled economy to college costs. He mentioned paying for tuition as one worry facing cash-strapped families.

“A lot of you I think are worried about your jobs, your pensions, your retirement accounts, your ability to send your child or your grandchild to college,” he said.

And, in response to a question from the audience about whether voters can trust their leaders to deal with the shaken economy, Obama mentioned college affordability as one area that the government must in invest in.

McCain never raised education as an issue, as Obama did. Nor did the Republican use the debate to raise concerns about Obama’s association with William Ayers, the Chicago education professor and member of the 1960s-era radical group the Weather Underground. Ayers and Obama worked together on a school reform project in their home city, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

Ties between Ayers and the Democratic nominee have been highlighted in the past week by McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, and some expected McCain to raise the issue. But the town hall format wasn’t very conducive to such an attack.

Maybe a very illuminating question that would have gotten each candidate to give a detailed, insightful answer on education policy got cut for time?