Review: "Kids Pick the President"
As the race for the White House increasingly features the sights and sounds of grown-ups acting like children, on both sides of the television camera, it is a relief to see an election special in which everyone behaves. For tomorrow night's "Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: Kids Pick the President." (Nickelodeon, Sunday, 9 p.m.), Barack Obama and John McCain answer questions submitted by viewers aged 10 to 15. (They were taped independently, on the campaign trail.) It's kind of like a Town Hall meeting, but with none of the finger-pointing.
With their rhetorical volume dialed down to "reasonable" and their answers brief, the candidates don't sound miles apart on many on many of the questions, some of which go to issues not yet raised in the debates. (Global warming is bad. Education is good. Immigration: Strengthen the borders but show compassion to those already here.) Expected differences do emerge, of course -- McCain subtly promotes his low-tax, pro-business agenda, though I doubt "refundable tax credit" is a phrase that has much traction among middle-schoolers. Obama touts his college-tuition-for-public-service idea. Obama says that Iraq was a bad idea from the start, and McCain insists on leaving with "victory and honor." But he also makes a more impassioned stand against torture than he's been pitching to his hang-em-high adult crowd.
The last two questions give the respondents no chance to fall back on talking points. The first is about being picked last for games -- Obama sometimes wasn't because he was young, and McCain wasn't because he was little, and both recommend showing up until you're taken seriously. The seasonally appropriate second query wonders whether the hopeful Next Leader of the Free World had a favorite Halloween costume, and here the candidates are in perfect accord: They love them some pirate. McCain even thinks it might be a good way to dress for Congress, where he could "get my sword out and my dagger and get 'em back in line." Out of the mouths of adults.
Host Ellerbee, in red sneakers Tom Brokaw could never pull off -- I don't mean that they're stuck to her feet, although this makes an interesting picture -- has wise closing words regarding the whole red vs. blue thing: "I would like you to see this for what it is: a piece of media nonsense.... No matter what you may see or hear on television, we the people of the United States of America are not so easily categorized.... and if you insist on categorizing us by color, think polka dot." (But are the dots red, Linda, or they blue?)
Kids, or anyone pretending to be a kid, can cast a doesn't-really-count vote for president online at nick.com/kpp; the results will be released Monday, Oct. 20. But note that the children of Nick America correctly called four out of the last five elections -- and this year's candidates, as well. Ignore them at your peril, big people.
-- Robert Lloyd