Unlike the boring, scripted debates we see on TV, this debate will be a no-holds-barred, knock down, drag out political brawl where ALL relevant policy issues about each candidate will be on the table.

~ Ellis Washington, Mock Presidential Debate flyer, SSU, Oct. 29, 2008

Invitation to a real political debate

Last Wednesday at Savannah State University, where I teach law and political science, I organized a political forum called, “Mock Presidential Debate – Obama v. McCain.” Barack Obama was played by my colleague Kevin Hales (professor of history); I played Sen. John McCain.

The political debate was a smashing success. We had over 250 students and about 15 faculty and staff participate. Several faculty members even brought their entire class. We also had a TV crew from the local Savannah affiliate WSAV that filmed the entire political forum.

To encourage students, administration, faculty and staff to attend, I sent out the following announcement:


On behalf of the Political Science Association at Savannah State University, I would like to formally invite the entire SSU family to attend an interesting and unique political forum – a Mock Presidential Debate – between BARACK OBAMA (represented by professor Kevin Hales [History Department] & JOHN MCCAIN (represented by professor Ellis Washington [Political Science Department]).

Professor Leonard McCoy [Political Science Department] will be the moderator along with student moderators Chelsea White and Sheila Adu Poku.

Unlike the boring, scripted debates we see on TV, this debate will be a no-holds-barred, knock down, drag out political brawl where ALL relevant policy issues about each candidate will be on the table.

See the attached flyer for further details regarding the Mock Presidential Debate.



Ellis Washington, J.D.

Department of Political Science
Faculty Adviser, Political Science Association

Of course, I knew going in that I was a marked man, that participation in this presidential debate would be a great challenge that would put my intellectual, political and spiritual capacities to the test – yet like a lamb to the slaughter, I embraced my destiny.

‘Why do you want to be president of the United States?’

This was the opening salvo of this political beat down. In order to set the proper tone, I knew my answer must be strong and unequivocal. I said in part:

The blood that flows throughout my veins is not red; it is red white and blue! I am an American. I believe in American exceptionalism. My grandfather and father were both decorated admirals in the U.S. Navy, fought fascism and bled for this country. I served six years in Vietnam, five and a half years as a prisoner of war of the dreaded Vietcong where I was almost continually tortured. I want the best leadership for America … and that’s why I want to be president of the United States of America!

(Stunned silence)

Although most of the questions from the SSU student body were passionate, earnest and intelligent, the overall tone was hostile, even antagonistic against the character I played, Sen. John McCain, and against the Republican Party. Surprisingly, some of the students braved the jeers and asked difficult questions to Sen. Barack Obama, while others nodded approvingly when I spoke like they were saying, “Professor Washington, I’m with you; I just can’t say so publicly.”

At the beginning of the debate, many questions centered on domestic issues, particularly the welfare state and how Obama promised a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans, free health care, dental care, child care, prenatal care, college education, job training, mortgage assistance, free gas for your car and free oil to heat your home, etc.

When I could take no more socialist propaganda from Obama and his youthful minions (many of them my own students), I launched into an extemporaneous tirade, which I paraphrase below:

What is wrong with you people?! How long will you allow your minds to be shackled by Big Government liberalism and the Democratic Party? In the early 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised you a “New Deal” and got your forefathers hooked on the drug of welfare and government handouts. In the 1960s, LBJ gave you the “Great Society” and over $5 trillion dollars in new welfare spending to fight what LBJ called his “War on Poverty,” yet poverty over the past 40 years has grown exponentially. Even worse, there is a poverty of the spirit that is particularly acute in the black community that remains undiagnosed and unacknowledged … even to this day.

Ladies and gentlemen, when will you say I don’t need your welfare, your universal health care, dental care, Social Security, food stamps and government cheese? I’ll buy my own cheese. [Slams fist on the table] “GET OFF THE DAMN PLANTATION!”

(Stunned silence, followed by a crescendo of jeers)

I thought to myself, “Ooooo noooo, I did it now! I really messed up. Did I cross the line of civility?” However, when I met the following day with my department chairman, Dr. Benn Bongang, he said, “Ellis, that was my favorite part of the debate. The students needed to hear what you said.”

Dr. Bongang is from Cameroon in West Africa and further remarked that like Africa, black people in America must look within and really analyze why they are voting for Barack Obama. Is it because your parents are doing so, or told you to do so? Is it because all you have been exposed to are Democratic Party policies? Is it because of the color of Obama’s skin?

None of those reasons is acceptable.

I then went across his desk and gave Dr. Bongang a big hug like I had just met a long-lost friend; I breathed a huge sigh of relief (until this meeting I didn’t even know that he attended the event) and said, “Thank you, Dr. Bongang, for your support. You made my day!”

Meeting ‘Obama’ face to face

I knew I did the right thing when the next morning my colleague, professor Hales, who played Obama, came to my office. He was somewhat emotional and said:

All my life people who I thought were my friends, people whom I have known for years, people whom I share the exact political worldview with … later stabbed me in the back. … God brought you into my life, Ellis, and we have views that are diametrical from one another and I … (his voice gets chocked up at this point)

I interjected and said, “It’s not about ideology, professor Hales; it’s about humanity, and as long as we place our humanity first, hopefully we can eventually overcome our political differences.”


Professor Leonard McCoy, who served as the moderator of this event, conducted the debate like the great jazz musician Miles Davis directed his famous quintet. Several times McCoy even came to my aide by asking Obama difficult questions and serving as the sergeant of arms when the students got too rowdy.

That day I truly believe that our political forum touched a lot of hearts and minds at Savannah State University during Homecoming Week and that the worldview of those 250 young minds and 15 faculty and staff was changed when they saw conservatism debated on par with liberalism in the arena of ideas … a change hopefully that will plant a seed for a better America.

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