Jeremy Epstein Was Likable, But Slouchy at Town-Hall Debate

Forget Crowley, Obama and Romney. We score five of last night's questioners on points of style and clarity.

With all the hubbub about who won what round and Libya and binders, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that seven ordinary Americans got up there during last night’s debate, bared their political souls to two presidential candidates and, fundamentally, represented the entire electorate in the process. By signing up for the spotlight, these folks basically guaranteed themselves and their questions the public scrutiny that accompanies any far-reaching display of political engagement. In light of which, I’d like to take this opportunity to give last night’s town hall-ers a brief performance evaluation, based on a few simple criteria. Let’s see how the first five of these everyday Americans measured up to the task of vetting our future leaders succinctly, specifically, and with a depth of political understanding and investment. Marks will be awarded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being there’s just no excuse for that; 2 meh; 3 sure, ok; 4 right on; and 5 pure glory.

Jeremy Epstein
Question: “Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?”

Clarity and Specificity of Question: 2
Not the most pointed. Plus, he brought his parents into it. You’re asking the question, bro. The first step towards adulthood is leave your parents out of it.

Relevance of Question to Broader Socio-Political Climate: 4
I’m 24, and blogging is one of my main sources of income these days. So …

Emotional Commitment: 4
That level of anxiety has to be at least partially linked to the matter at hand.

Likelihood of Actual Party Allegiance Masked by “Undecided” Status: 2
I got no vibe either way. Nicely played, Jer.

Points for Style: 1
That suit just did not fit. Plus, slouching. Plus, again, your parents? C’mon bud.

Phillip Tricolla
Question: “Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?”

Clarity and Specificity of Question: 4
Only lost a point because it was almost too specific to elicit a satisfyingly informative answer from either candidate.

Relevance of Question to Broader Socio-Political Climate: 4
Get them talking about energy alternatives and I’m with you all the way, though you did leave some wiggle room in focusing so much on gas.

Emotional Commitment: 3
Good punch on the “three times,” but otherwise pretty wooden.

Likelihood of Actual Party Allegiance Masked by “Undecided” Status: 2.5
Some gunning for Obama, but no sense of real vendetta.

Points for Style: 4
Loved the glasses, appreciated the accent, could have done without the shoes.

Mary Follano
Question: “Governor Romney, you have stated that if you’re elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue. Concerning the—these various deductions, the mortgage deductions, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also … the education credits, which are important to me, because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important to the middle class?”

Clarity and Specificity of Question: 4
Point off for general bumbling of the delivery, but the question itself cites exact deductions extremely effectively.

Relevance of Question to Broader Socio-Political Climate: 5
It’s all about the middle class these days, baby.

Emotional Commitment: 5
She got so flustered, and she cares about her kids.

Likelihood of Actual Party Allegiance Masked by “Undecided” Status: 2.3
Some potential Obama-hood here, but not enough to write home about.

Points for Style: 1
Mary, you looked a bit too 1973 to be really acceptable on national television.

Katherine Fenton
Question: “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?” [I.e., the question that gave us Romney’s “binders full of women.”

Clarity and Specificity of Question: 5
Actually has “specifically” in the question, which also specifies “new ways.”

Relevance of Question to Broader Socio-Political Climate: 5
Anne-Marie Slaughter, anyone?

Emotional Commitment: 3.5
Wooden delivery, but clear determination.

Likelihood of Actual Party Allegiance Masked by “Undecided” Status: 3
If only because she seems to like women alright, and the GOP is a little fuzzy these days on female equality, it seems.

Points for Style: 3
Red and blue dress: subtle.

Susan Katz
Question: “Governor Romney, I am an undecided voter, because I’m disappointed with the lack of progress I’ve seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much of America’s economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration. Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?”

Clarity and Specificity of Question: 3.5
Clarity is crystal, specificity was broad.

Relevance of Question to Broader Socio-Political Climate: 4
Why aren’t we talking about this more?

Emotional Commitment: 3.5
Dead eyes but caring heart.

Likelihood of Actual Party Allegiance Masked by “Undecided” Status: 1
She was pretty clear about that I think.

Points for Style: 5
Scarf + glasses = win.

My overall perception of the American electorate, taking these first five questioners as generally representative: Average to above-average intelligence; clear sense of the key issues; fair to middling personal style.

However, taking the first five folks as our subject example, the entire voting population of America is very, very, VERY white. The first invested voter of color showed up after Susan, and seems to have been chosen for the extreme breadth (“Stuff’s worse, Mr. President”) and trite simplicity (“Stuff’s more expensive, Mr. President”) of his question.