November 20th, 2007

Softballing Presidential Debates


photo credit: wakalani

To begin, I must clarify that when referring to the highly publicized and hyped events where presidential candidate are each asked a question as a “debate”, I do so only because that is the moniker by which they are most widely known.

But these gatherings are anything but a forum for debate.

Witnesses of these events often gain little more than they would if they were subjected to Billy Madison’s attempts to answer the same questions.

As Thomas Pynchon said in Gravity’s Rainbow, “if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

Supporting evidence for the assertion that the debates are anything but a place for debating is pouring in after the recent CNN Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

Questions about haircuts, jewelry, the Yankees, and other miscellany have become widespread and accepted. Where is the intellectual acuity to be desired of he (or, reluctantly, she) who will become the so-called “leader of the world”? Butler Shaffer wonders the same:

According to one of my dictionaries, a “debate” is “a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.” Ron Paul is the only candidate offering points of view that would appeal to an intelligent mind. But where is the “matched side” to his arguments? Even from those who strongly disagree with him, where is the response that matches the intellectual forcefulness of his analysis? Apart from desperately trying to ignore his political presence, where is there any opponent of his views who is able to rise above childish name-calling and engage the good doctor in a genuine debate?

Not only do most of the candidates not offer anything that a rational mind would determine to be well thought out and morally principled, but debate time frequently regresses into an ego-fest.

Agree with him or not, every honest American with a brain on should agree that Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate that “speaks truth to power”, discussing issues and principles regardless of polls, popularity, or audience. Peter Hart sounds off similarly:

The real problem isn’t that Ron Paul can’t win the White House, or that progressive candidates might “muck up” a debate; if anything, they’ve started a debate the media don’t want to have.

Indeed, with blatant and exposed censorship by CNN and FOX of any supposedly “difficult” question, one is left to conclude that the media is controlling the “debate”. Further examples are given by this article last week demonstrating a complete avoidance of any pertinent topic:

Through 17 debates this year, roughly 1,500 questions have been asked of the two parties’ presidential candidates. But only a small handful of questions have touched on the candidates’ views on executive power, the Constitution, torture, wiretapping, or other civil liberties concerns. (A description of those questions appears at the end of this column.)

Only one question about wiretapping. Not a single question about FISA.

There has, however, been a question about whether the Constitution should be changed to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to be president.

Not one question about renditions. The words “habeas corpus” have not once been spoken by a debate moderator. Candidates have not been asked about telecom liability.

The American people deserve to be informed as to the various stances and thoughts of those seeking the highest office in the nation. Moderators of nationally televised debates owe it to the voting public to resurrect the practices they learned as budding journalists and ask (or allow to be asked) important questions on pertinent issues, instead of lobbing softballs and joking around.

4 Responses to “Softballing Presidential Debates”

  1. Curtis
    November 21, 2007 at 12:41 am #

    It gets worse in the Presidential debates where Democrats square off against Republicans and noone else is allowed to play. Could you have imagined Bush debating Ralph Nader for the last two elections? What a sweet sight that would have been.

  2. Russell
    November 21, 2007 at 11:34 am #

    The media is giving the American people exactly what they ask for. Frightening isn’t it.

  3. November 21, 2007 at 8:42 pm #

    Not only do most of the candidates not offer anything that a rational mind would determine to be well thought out and morally principled…..

    …..every honest American with a brain on should agree that Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate….

    Note: the second sentence is a variation on the classic fallacy of “Appeal to Popularity.”

    I’m not saying I don’t agree with you, Dr. Paul has easily come out on the top of exit polls, at nearly every major debate he’s attended.

    I just think it is mildly ironic that you use the same kind of questionable rhetoric that you disparage in the preceding paragraph….:-)

  4. Connor
    November 21, 2007 at 9:37 pm #

    I just think it is mildly ironic that you use the same kind of questionable rhetoric that you disparage in the preceding paragraph…

    Ah, good ol’ argumentum ad populum. I don’t think this fallacy applies here. I’m not saying that “most people agree that RP is the only presidential candidate…”, but instead that they should think that way, regardless of what popular opinion is.

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