What part of the presidential debates most interested my teen daughter?
The candidates' clothes. She wanted to know whether Mitt Romney and Barack Obama got to choose their neckties. (Romney went with red, Obama with blue.)
Did they pick their own patriotic color for a reason? Did Romney want to appeal to red states and Obama to appeal to blue ones? (Maybe, maybe not. In his third presidential debate against John McCain in 2008, Obama wore a red necktie instead.)
My daughter noticed that other than the ties, the two men dressed identically. Dark suit? Check. White shirt? Check. Lapel pin? Check.
The debate dress code leaves little room for creative expression – except for neckwear.
So why did the candidates go with such safe hues? Why didn't one of them break out and wear one of the Smithsonian museum store's solar system ties – or better yet, one of its Republican elephant or Democratic donkey ties? Or why didn't one of them go with a bow tie or an old Ralph Lauren wide tie?
A more adventurous wardrobe pick for the next debate would give kids (and adults) something to look at when the talk gets too policy wonkish for them.
For the vice presidential debates about foreign and domestic policy on October 11, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan could consider breaking out of the dark suit, white shirt, red-or-blue tie rut.
The boring-neckwear tradition dates back to all past debates. At their 2000 debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Al Gore and George Bush both wore red ties. (Shockingly, George Bush wore a light blue shirt instead of a white one.) In 1996, Bob Dole and Bill Clinton went with the white-shirt-dark-suit-colorful-tie uniform. In 1992, Ross Perot selected a brown suit – apparently not a winner.
I asked my older daughter for any other impressions from the debates. She said she she felt she lacked the background to evaluate how each candidate handled questions about the economy and healthcare. (Join the club. After the 90-minute event, I immediately started looking on fact-checking sites like Politifact.com, with its truth-o-meter.)
On Obama and Romney's wardrobes, my daughter (like many of the rest of us) felt she was on firmer ground.
My younger daughter, who watched for school extra credit, was simply happy when the debates ended.
For more about the presidential candidates, read: