From the pages of

Debate Science Project
by Martin Lewis
(First published October 12, 2000)

An increasing phenomenon of debate coverage on the news channels in recent years has been the instant voter response. Ostensibly undecided voters in a battleground state are gathered together and strapped up either to a plethora of wires (in the case of Fox News) or to Wolf Blitzer (in the case of CNN.)

As a foreigner - and therefore NON-voter -(the American constitution is most insistent on this point) I have been feeling decidedly left out of these insta-surveys.

So I decided to become an interactive viewer during this debate - and gauge my reactions to each and every twist of the candidates' tongues.

So I closeted myself in my hotel room on the campaign trail (consider it a 'Swing Suite") with the finest and most sophisticated equipment for measuring human responses that you can get from the Sharper Image. With the assistance of a highly-qualified teenager (the only people who can understand how to work these gadgets) I was duly strapped up to three expensive Yuppie toys. In fairness - the teen is also a pre-med student - schooled in the art of reading LED displays.

The "Lifewatch Blood Pressure Wrist Monitor" ("features accurate oscillometric technology") was like an oversize wrist watch - pumping out continual pulse readings and blood pressure assessments. By placing my thumbs on the "Medisan Cardio-Check" my teen technician was able to chart my heart rhythms - a miniature ECG machine. And - my favorite - I left two fingers on the ashtray-like "Bio Touch" - which claimed to measure my "galvanic skin response" by means of colored lights and audio tones. In other words a very expensive mood ring - with speakers.

I started out watching the debate with very elevated numbers. My blood pressure was 190 over 80 - much higher than the considered normal range of 120 over 70. However this may have been due to the excitement of opening up my Chinese food as Gore and Bush entered the auditorium.

My pulse was a fairly high 104 as the opening exchanges unfolded. Bush announced that he was in favor of peace in general - and my pulse slipped back in relief to 102. A few minutes later he declared that if there was "trouble from Saddam" - there'd be "consequences" and my pulse shot back up. Meanwhile the Bio Mood chart showed my stress level going from a mellow green to a disturbed orange.

The first sign that my heart was racing came when Bush got agitated over Gore throwing him a question. My ECG reading showed a spike of .2 on my ST section. (Apparently this meant that I was slightly more alive.)

After 45 minutes of soporific foreign affairs my blood pressure dropped to a more reassuring 136 over 75. However this was primarily because I apparently nodded off briefly - a narcolepsy caused by a surfeit of bland exchanges and too much MSG in my food.

The debate (and my heart) came to life when the health care issue was raised. Gore reciting the statistics about Texas child and family care caused my blood pressure to soar to 230 over 95. And I suspect that Bush's pulse raced a little too.

Bush's guileless defense of his record - and Gore's overly-polite response sent the mood lights to a blood-red scarlet - and the mellow tone went up a couple of octaves. The Bio box was sounding like a cross between a distressed whale and one of the Bee Gees.

Eventually the debate reached its conclusion and my blood pressure calmed down to a comparatively low 137 over 94. The mood meter lights drifted back to a verdant green and my pulse mellowed to 105.

I unplugged the apparatus and surveyed the evening. The conclusions were clear. Gore hadn't sighed once. Bush had snorted several times (I lost count after 7) - indicating a potential deviated septum. I hope he has good health insurance. And I had consumed slightly less than 3,000 calories.

I had to concede that Bush had survived quite well - though I was very taken with his line "we have a statue on the books." Gore's victories were not apparent in the immediate post-debate polls. However if the media is as diligent in pursuing Bush on his unanswered questions regarding Texan health care as it was in chiding Gore on his mistaken anecdotes last week - then the snap polls and pundits may prove to have been premature.

Meanwhile - I was proud to have been able to test my reactions to the debate without being asked a single question by Wolf Blitzer.

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