Inside the Beltway: Debate = Party

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Oh well, who can blame the University of Denver for turning the first presidential debate into a big fat party? Welcome to “Debate Fest.” While President Obama and Mitt Romney spar over domestic policy inside hallowed halls on Wednesday, the university-sanctioned event will foment for six hours on the campus green. Among the draws: A designated “Free Speech Zone” complete with audio hook-up, live music, a Jumbotron screen to telecast the debate, cuisine from a battalion of “diverse local food trucks,” assorted games and “Issues Alley” — a hodgepodge of tents and tables devoted to political causes.

University officials anticipate “considerable media coverage” of the festival, and seek some decorum. They have banned drugs, alcohol, cowbells, air horns, Frisbees, beach balls, balloons, laser pointers, and for those who might want to evoke the old hippie-era days of protest, “any signage with a stick or pole attached.”

STILL BREWING

Tea partiers are getting skittish over certain Republicans they say are willing to give in to Democratic demands for higher taxes should President Obama be re-elected. The Tea Party Patriots, still the nation’s largest umbrella group for the grass-roots movement, particularly cite Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Tom Cole of Oklahoma as lawmakers who “believe they need to surrender to the liberals at the first sign of trouble,” says Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the group.

“Let me be perfectly clear. No matter who wins the presidency in November, the tea party movement is not going anywhere. We are going to keep fighting against tax hikes, higher government spending and out-of-control government,” she adds. “And if Obama does win, we will fight any politician who believes that the federal government doesn’t have enough money and that taxes should go up.”

DEEP-FRIED AMERICA

Deep-fried fascination continues across America, whether the White House issues healthy dietary guidelines or not. Witness just a small sampling of persistent fried fair fare found in the shadow of the midway. It has now gone far beyond the deep-fried Twinkies once considered radical:

Texas State Fair: Chicken-fried bacon, deep fried cactus; Florida State Fair: Deep-fried Pop Tarts, deep-fried bubble gum; California State Fair: Deep-fried avocado, deep-fried artichoke hearts, deep-fried red velvet cake; San Diego County Fair: Deep-fried Kool Aid, deep-fried Tang; Iowa State Fair: Deep-fried butter, deep-fried cupcakes; Utah State Fair: Deep-fried Jello, deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; Indiana State Fair: Deep-fried frog legs, deep-fried Trix cereal; Wisconsin State Fair: Deep-fried turkey stuffing, deep-fried strawberry shortcake.

POLITICAL INTERMARRIAGE

Political polarization has gotten polar indeed, says Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford University researcher who gauged public sentiment on a very personal matter. Is it disturbing when a child marries outside the family political beliefs? Uh, yeah, say many Americans.

“Using data from a variety of sources, we demonstrate that both Republicans and Democrats increasingly dislike, even loathe, their opponents,” says Mr. Iyengar, who delved into a 1960 survey that asked respondents if they would be upset if their child married someone outside their political party, then compared it to a similar poll conducted 50 years later.

In 1960, 5 percent of Americans disapproved of such an intermarriage; in 2010, the number was 40 percent, including half of the Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats. The findings were published in Public Opinion Quarterly.

“Party animosity is not historically new, just new to last several decades. At least partisans today are not brawling with and killing one another, as was true in the 19th century,” observes Claude Fischer, a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

CANDIDATE TRACKER

Will President Obama and Mitt Romney have time to practice their expository speaking skills in preparation for the aforementioned debate? Yes, well. The siren call of the campaign and fundraising trail never ceases. In the next 72 hours, the campaign teams will be in seven states: Mr. Obama (Nevada), Mr. Romney (Pennsylvania, Maine, Colorado), Vice President Joseph R. Biden (Florida), Rep. Paul Ryan (New Hampshire, Iowa).

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