Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why I Dislike Our Style of Presidential Debate

Article first published as Why I Dislike Our Style of Presidential Debate on Blogcritics.

We have had, so far, 16 debates during the 2012 presidential race.  I would like to call them, instead of debates, question-and-answer meetings, arguments, character assassinations, popularity contests, pure rhetoric, or in the case of the last question this past Saturday a mutual congratulatory sessions.  None of them have been debates in the classic sense; a single topic with opening statements and rebuttals.  These seem more like political advertisements; considering that most of the candidates have experience with formal debates, this is disturbing.  Maybe this is more the fault of the debate hosts in not structuring them appropriately.

While I appreciate the chance to see the candidates side-by-side, answering the same questions (although sometimes they answer something completely different), I would like to see a more formal debate with specific and limited topics, time constraints, and a more rigid scoring.  As it presently stands, the “slickest” speaker, or the last to speak, frequently is seen as the “winner” of the debate or that particular question.

In the September 22nd debate there was some attempt to limit time, and I like that questions were taken from all over the country, but this high number of questions on a variety of topics make it difficult to assess the candidate’s grasp of the topic.  This was another example of this just being a question-and-answer session – there was no rebuttal.  The first question, on stimulating small business, is a very important issue, but it was only asked of Perry and Romney, and Mitt immediately shifted his answers to some other stump that he wanted to speak on, what I would call wandering afield.

There also seems to be too much time spent describing what is wrong with the current administration, like Bachmann did with her first question, and whether or not you agree with Obama on how he runs the country (such that the president runs anything), the point of these debates is to see how the candidates will address certain issues.  In my opinion, complaining about what is wrong is not constructive. 

The October 18th debate tried to follow some of the rules (limited time and rebuttals), but again had so many questions that all of the candidates could not answer all of the questions.  In the first question, on taxes, it turned into a “what is wrong with Cain’s plan” attack, not an answer to what each candidate would or will do.  While I would have liked a thorough analysis of tax plans, not that Cain’s plan had much of a chance (and now neither does he), there was not enough time spent on this specific topic to understand what each candidate thinks would work, or what they propose.

This is the problem with the candidate’s policy position statements and how they are reported on by the media, by analogy.


Moderator: The first question I would like to ask, concerns all Americans and has been noted as one of the top polling topics during the last week, “Is fruit healthy”?

Candidate A: “I think that the American people like yellow fruit the most, so as president I will ensure that yellow fruit is always available.  My distinguished opponent has insisted that polls show a favor towards red fruit, which is clearly a lie.  My staff has compiled several reports linking red fruit to immoral actions, and I will not stop until red fruit is no longer a threat.”

Candidates B: “Since time immemorial, this great nation has relied on fruit as a part of their daily diet.  Those liberal bastards have claimed that ‘we the people’ are entitled to choose whether to eat fruit or not, and not have fruit thrust upon us.  I say now, that if elected, I will not sleep until this fruit issue is resolved.”

Candidate C: “I have been aware of this fruit issue for years.  I recently signed a pledge stating that fruit is only to be eaten by a man and woman, and I hope that eventually the whole country will sign this pledge as well.  As Governor, I enacted many state laws with regard to fruit, and I believe that as president, I can move those laws into the federal arena.”

Candidate D: “I think that by raising taxes on fruit we will be able to fund further research into fruit as a whole, and eventually resolve this issue.  My opponents think that by lowering taxes, somehow this fruit issue will just go away.  It will never go away while I am in office, of that I can assure you.”

Moderator: “Thank you, sirs and madam, that was very informative and I believe answers that question completely.  Now, moving to the next question…”


All in all, I would rather hear specific plans on how to address each issue from each candidate – if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

If you missed any of the debates you can find them all here.

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