The Great Debate Waste
I have seen virtually every Presidential and Vice Presidential debate this country has ever held. I admit that my viewing of the Nixon/Kennedy debates in 1960 did not do a lot to inform me of the issues because I was only seven years old and in the second grade. Presidential debates in this country are generally aimed at about Fifth Grade level, so I was still a little young. Also, in order to understand the debates of 1960, you have to understand where Quemoy and Matsu were, something I still don’t know.
The debates were revived in 1976 because the incumbent, Gerald Ford, was behind in the polls and was desperate, so he allowed himself to face off with former Governor Jimmy Carter who was on his way to one of the least effective Presidencies in the annals of the Republic. The irony is, that by the pivotal second debate, Ford had pulled even with Carter and had a real chance at winning. Then, for reasons we will never understand, said in the middle of the debate that the Soviet Union had no domination of Eastern Europe, something that you did not have to be a fifth Grader to know was untrue. This gaffe stopped Ford’s surge in the polls and contributed greatly to his razor thin loss. After that, debates began to turn solely on which candidate said the dumbest thing (possibly not a bad criteria) and debate preparation for any and every possible question became all important.
Then in 1984, during the Vice Presidential debate, Dan Quayle casually mentioned that he was older or had more experience than Kennedy had had when Kennedy was running in 1960. Lloyd Bentsen humiliated young Dan with his famous “You are no Jack Kennedy” remarks. It was later revealed that, far from an off the cuff remark, Lloyd had practiced the line before the debate. From that point on, the nature of the debates began to change to a format where every answer to a question was totally scripted. Now there was no chance for a gaffe. This was not so bad, because at least you got an answer to the question and knew (as well as anyone can) what the candidate thought about the question.
This year we have seen the final evolution of the debate. Now candidates give answers that have nothing what so ever to do with the questions, but are merely forms of their stump speeches. Last night was the worst of all. Using the town meeting concept, where an “ordinary” citizen asks a question, the candidates insulted the citizens and America by not answering their questions. The first question was asked by a senior citizen, specifically about senior citizen issues, during the current economic crisis. Senator Obama proceeded to answer the question without reference to senior citizens and all we heard was a warmed over version of his view that George Bush, and hence John McCain, took this country down the steps to economic perdition. The night advanced with no change in style or substance by either candidate. We should have known that this was coming. Neophyte Palin in her first debate had let the cat out of the bag by telling the moderator that she was not necessarily going to answer the question the moderator asked, or respond to the point her opponent (“Say it ain’t so”) Joe Biden made. She was going to say what she wanted on the subject she wanted and the only subject that she wanted to speak on was mavericks.
It is now time to end these debates. They serve no political purpose, they are an insult to the intelligence of every American above the fifth grade, and are a disservice to the future of everyone younger than that. Virtually any method of vetting candidates would be better than running these hour and a half commercials that cut into valuable prime time programming. I noticed last night that some cable channel is now rerunning “Third Rock from the Sun” and I considered switching over to it before I decided simply to read for awhile. I never really watched that program much when it was on T.V. the first time, but at least John Lithgow did not intentionally insult me on the show. I knew that he was playing things for laughs. The fact that two United States Senators do not think that I can tell when they are not answering a question from one of my fellow citizens shows me exactly what contempt they hold me, and all of us in. I think it is time to stop these debates. I would replace them with a format like that lie detector show where you have to sit alone in a chair and get asked questions in front of your family (in this case your country) and if you lie in your answer, a disembodied computer sounding voice tells you and everyone else this that your pants are on fire. This is not meant to be sarcasm or wit. I really think that that is how we ought to do things from now on.