Hard to believe it was almost a year ago I was sitting at a Chamber breakfast listening to Lynn University Chief of Staff Jason Walton talk about how Lynn University was awarded the final presidential debate—and what it would take to pull it off.
Eleven months later I am sitting here at my desk, groggy from a late night at Lynn University, still pinching myself over that very debate—and how tiny Lynn University staged what was one of the most memorable events I have experienced in my 21 some years working at this magazine. From the early morning when I was given my press badge credential to wear around my neck, to pulling up in a bus with journalists from all over the world to the media center, you could feel it in the air. The world was here, or it was watching. Broadcasters in dark suits were staging live feeds. The Wold Center blazed red, white and blue with a Debate sign you could see from Mars. Chris Matthews was having his face powdered for a live feed. Beautiful students in Lynn tee shirts made their way in groups past a gauntlet of food tricks to a soccer field that had been transformed to a giant lounge party.
By nine I was in my seat in the Media Center with all the news people watching the debate from hundreds of TVs suspended in mid-air. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog circulated; people from every corner of the globe filed their stories, spoke into mikes and blogged and tweeted and whispered to each other. And 10 minutes before it was over, a stockade of tall boxy signs lurched into view far to the front of the room, as pundits and news people and PR flaks and politicians began filing into “Spin Alley” to pontificate about the debate. A sign said KERRY, and there was John Kerry, silver-haired, serious. CLARK, as in General Wesley Clark, or RUBIO or GRAHAM or PLOUFE or AXELROD or PORTMAN. They were all there, milling about, chatting off the cuff, a million mikes thrust into their faces. Andrea Mitchell walked by to her seat on set; John Mc Cain jostled past me. It was a universe of American politics, jammed into a noisy crowd, people talking and arguing and explaining and fighting back.
It was at that moment that I realized what the magic was. It wasn’t that I was in a sea of famous faces, or that the whole world was watching. It was that I was at the very epicenter of American politics—the discussion of ideas, a great clumsy passionate dialogue about who we are, or should be. It was disorganized and crowded and important all at once.
Most of all, you could feel it. You could feel that it mattered.
This debate put Lynn on the map—and Lynn triumphed. As well as that college did in bringing America to our doorstep, I think it truly shone in the promise it kept almost a year ago: to host the ultimate conversation. To make it real.
To remind us what it means to be an American.