Political Debate, R.I.P.

by Sean Hackbarth

Is debate doomed? After watching the three Presidential debates that barely affected the race one could easily say, “yes:”

It’s unlikely that debate will fully recover. Oratory is too battered — in the schools by a misplaced egalitarianism, in national politics by an anti-intellectual populism. It’s a shame. Crowds thrill to Barack Obama’s words, as they once thrilled to Ronald Reagan’s. That both men could be attacked as “mere” orators, as if words did not convey ideas, and as if ideas could not change the world, reflects a cynical side of America. As we debaters would say, Be it resolved: In the battle for good debate, the lesser angels of our nature are winning.

“For Argument’s Sake”

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3 Responses to “Political Debate, R.I.P.”


Our presidential debates are unpredictable and often unfair, but there is no better test of a candidate.

Most Americans never see presidential candidates in the flesh. For many, the televized debates are their only chance to watch them up close and more or less unscripted. They can observe how their would-be leaders think on their feet and cope with huge pressure. These are useful skills for a president.


Let’s get back to the Lincoln-Douglas style debates 7, 3 hour debates. Oh wait, only C-SPAN would sign off on that.


Except, these aren’t debates.

As the article cited mentions, “Tom Brokaw tried to stop Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama when they began actually debating!”

These are question-and-answer interviews which often just end up nothing more than 90-minute campaign commercials.

Only the last one came close to being a debate.

Better moderators, better topic, and a specific rule to have side judges that can stop the off-track, off-topic stump speechifying in the first few words. (Personally, I think we should hand moderators one of those air-horns-in-a-can and the moment the pol wanders; BRRRRAAAAAAAAAAP!, stick to the topic, please. Then all the talking heads could tally the BRRAAAPs and declare a winner)

Just one little quibble with the cited article: “…as if words did not convey ideas, and as if ideas could not change the world,…”

Neither change the world.

Actions do.


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