Are Presidential Debates Serving the Country Well?

Are Presidential Debates Serving the Country Well?

( – When you watch a presidential debate, do you feel like you learned something new about the candidates, their policies, and how they stack up? If you’re like many, probably not. Over time, the debates have become 2-minute individual infomercials that are tightly controlled by a moderator, or at least they are supposed to be controlled.

There are so many things inherently wrong with the way presidential debates are conducted. Perhaps in their current format, they shouldn’t even be called debates? Not only are candidates forced into giving canned answers, Republicans sometimes have to debate the supposed impartial moderator as well.

What Is Wrong With the Debates?

Debates are supposed to be a time to actively engage and argue for one’s position in an attempt to persuade viewers. Merriam-Webster defines a debate as “a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.” A debate is hardly that these days.

There are several reasons for this. First is the issue of time. When a candidate is only given two minutes to respond to a serious issue, it robs them of their argument, the audience of knowing their full position, and the opposition’s ability to either prove them wrong or counter with a better argument. The follow-up of either one minute or 15 seconds is also not helpful to the rebuttal.

Second, a debate is not supposed to be about the moderator’s agenda.

In the first debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, moderator Chris Wallace seemed more in a hurry to get his question in than in the two candidates’ responses. At the vice-presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), it was the same thing. When the two candidates wanted to spar and make their counterarguments, the moderators explicitly told them they didn’t have time and needed to get to their next question.

Sadly, the real loser in all of this is the voter. Not only are they deprived of a healthy back and forth, but candidates are also forced to think in soundbites that offer no tangible value.

End the Soundbite Debates

What debates have devolved into are a series of soundbites and “gotcha” questions designed to irritate and bring out the worst in a candidate. While it’s important to see a candidate perform under pressure, it would be better if the debates were structured to expose if the candidate really has a grasp on important issues and the ability to persuade voters to their side.

Instead, soundbite debates only play into partisans rooting for their side to destroy the other. There’s no reason to communicate why an issue is important outside of fearmongering for votes. This may be a significant reason why debates rarely change the outcomes of an election.

Perhaps debates should be restructured to force candidates to talk more about issues and challenge each other. As it is, the debates don’t do that well. Instead, they are treated as sporting events by the media and the political parties.

Let’s hope the candidates will have more than just a few minutes to express their points of view and respond at the next debate. A good old-fashioned back-and-forth would be healthy and serve the nation well. Assuming there is another debate in the 2020 election season that is.

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

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