The Year Of The Presidential Debates
I must confess I have liked the GOP presidential debates, and watched all of them except for one that fell on a really nice evening last year that demanded I be outside. I have laughed at the quality of the candidates, and was repulsed by the rude cat-calls and boorish behavior from some of the selected audiences. But I kept coming back to the debates over and over to see how the candidates evolved, (and Lord know this group needed to) and to gauge how they were doing with their respective campaigns.
Many will analyze and ponder the wisdom of so many debates, and if it helped the Republican Party. In the end it may not have helped the GOP, but I think it aided the rest of us to better understand about the partisan politics that are being waged in this election cycle.
There’s a lot about the debates that’s problematic. They privilege certain abilities—eloquence, aggressiveness, quickness of wit, an ability to convey emotions that “resonate”—that are not always distinguishable from glibness or demagoguery. Nor are today’s debates all that distinguishable from other kinds of “reality” television—the elaborate red-white-and-blue sets, the swooping cameras, the “new media” flourishes (questions from Twitter and YouTube), the howling studio audiences. The accepted format, somewhere between a joint press conference and an unfriendly, overcaffeinated panel discussion, is choppy and awkward. Even so, especially against the background of the increasing ghastliness of other aspects of twenty-first-century campaigning, the debates are of inestimable value. They enable voters to see and hear the candidates in a sustained manner, outside the protective cocoons of their handlers, packagers, stage managers, consultants, PACs, and Super PACs. They oblige the candidates to speak for themselves. As Minow has written, “The debates are the only time during presidential campaigns when the major candidates appear together side by side under conditions that they do not control.” In TiVo veritas.