Debate System Flawed
by The Milton Measure on Friday, November 2nd, 2012
Obama and Romney are both chasing the same prize: the presidency of the United States. In the past few weeks, both candidates have sparred with each other as modern gladiators in arenas that held over 60 million viewers: the presidential debates.
<br>Debates allow the public to understand the positions and characteristics of each candidate. Listening to each candidate’s views helps voters see how his policies would directly affect their everyday lives and thus allows for a more informed decision come Election Day. Furthermore, debates exemplify some of the candidates’ characteristics that would not come across through their political platforms. For example, in the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden affirmed his position as an experienced and powerful political figure. Paul Ryan, on the other hand, came across as a quieter candidate who does not have much experience on the political front. Ever since the age of televised debates began, political discourse has become more superficial in nature. The famously significant 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate was a moment of sea change: JFK surged in the polls after appearing youthful and energy-filled, in contrast to an old and jowly Nixon. This focus on appearance and style has led to an emphasis on body language and tone of voice over substance and fact. Obama’s flaccid performance in the first debate was as much caused by his colorless physical presence as his weak defense on the issues.
Debates are meant to help people decide who to vote for, not to confuse them. The beauty of a debate relies on the battle of ideas. It matters very little for the country whether Romney wanted to eliminate Big Bird or if Obama has not kept a close eye on his 401k. What voters really need is a rigorous contest to decide whose economic plan will work better and who is more qualified to settle affairs in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the media seems to play too large a role in dictating what viewers think of the debates. Within the first few seconds after a debate has finished, reporters of CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News begin drawing conclusions about who has won the debate before voters even have any time to digest the ideas presented in the past 90 minutes. Even worse, some television channels had a line graph across the bottom of the screen which would go up or down as the candidates spoke as groups of “instant response” voters indicated their opinion. As millions of spectators flip the channel to watch the two candidates fight it out, no one seems to wonder where the real debates went. The debates today are merely spectacles. As the contests are now, viewers need to spend quite a bit of energy cutting through the posturing and uncovering the real issues.
The country deserves a more simplistic style of debating, where one candidate presents his opinion, and the other follows, with each concluding with a rebuttal about big ideas, not trivialities or the other candidate’s personal life. A stronger moderator who could encourage the candidates to respect each others’ time would also improve the process. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have spent much of the campaign talking about change; they need to apply some of that energy to a key process of the election itself.
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