With presidential candidates George W. Bush ’68 and John Kerry ’66 set to do battle in their first debate tonight, two younger sons of Eli are likely to pay close attention to not only what the politicians say, but how they say it.
Yale Debate Society members Aaron Zelinsky ’06 and Adam Chilton ’07 have received increasing media attention this week for articles they each wrote for the Hartford Courant commentary section Sunday critiquing the candidates’ debating skills.
Published Sept. 26, the two articles humorously emphasized what the students — both of whom said they support Kerry — described as the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates. Chilton explained why he believes Bush’s debating style, though often attacked by critics for what they identify as clumsiness and inaccuracy, is so appealing to the American electorate. Zelinsky described how the debating skills he says Kerry mastered at Yale might not help him in the upcoming debates, and offered the candidate stylistic advice on how to defeat Bush.
The idea for the article originated with Courant’s Commentary Editor, Carolyn Lumsden. Knowing that Kerry had been a leader of the Yale Debating Society while attending the school, she said she thought current Yale debaters might provide a valuable perspective on the upcoming election.
“The idea of two debate experts from Yale commenting on two expert debaters from Yale seemed so logical,” Lumsden said.
Lumsden contacted Yale Debate Society President Joshua Bendor ’05 and asked him to find students willing to write an “analysis critique” for both Bush and Kerry’s debating styles. Bendor then referred her to Zelinsky and Chilton.
“Adam and Aaron just seemed like the two [members] most interested in American politics, and the most excited by it,” Bendor said.
Chilton chose to critique what he characterized as Bush’s often underestimated debating style. In a piece entitled “Bush: All the Right Goofs,” Chilton wrote that he thinks Bush’s simple and personable style attracts average voters by obscuring his upper-class origins and making him appear to be a normal American. Chilton predicted that, if Bush continues with this style, he will likely win the election.
Though Chilton said he chose to write about Bush because it would allow him to “make fun of [Bush] a lot,” his column focuses on the popularity of Bush’s style and how he believes Bush will likely defeat Kerry in the eyes of most viewers.
To accompany this, Zelinsky wrote a column, “Talking Points,” evaluating Kerry’s style and offers helpful hints on how the candidate might increase his popularity. While Kerry may defeat Bush in the coming debates, he wrote, he will still lose the election if he fails to be the more likeable and trustworthy actor onstage.
Since the Courant printed the articles, Chilton and Zelinsky have received increasing amounts of attention from national and international news services.
“We didn’t realize how big it would be, quite frankly, when we started out,” Zelinsky said.
After The New York Times quoted Zelinsky in an article about an oratory teacher Bush and Kerry once shared, requests for interviews and mock debates have poured in, he said. Chilton and Zelinsky said outlets ranging from Canadian Public Radio to FOX News of Boston to a Spanish-language broadcasting station in Texas and Mexico have asked for the two students’ input.
In total, Zelinsky said, eight or nine different news services have approached them. Lumsden has placed their work on the LA Times/Washington Post newswire, increasing their exposure.
Both debaters said they are enjoying the attention.
“It’s been a good ride,” Chilton said.