Ain’t no Lincoln. No Douglas, neither.
I’m going to try to keep this non-partisan, because I felt the same way back in the days before the Republican Party forgot what it believed. (Oops!)
Anyway, Merriam-Webster defines “debate” thusly, and it’s the definition I recall from my school years:
a contention by words or arguments: as
a : the formal discussion of a motion before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure
b : a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.
The so-called presidential debates of the past few decades have been neither debates, as far as I’m concerned, nor presidential. They have been disorganized efforts on the part of either side to put on a better show than their opponents. Very little is debated. In fact, based on the definitions above (accepted for a couple of centuries now), there is essentially no debate at all. Each party throws out his or her contentions in as broad a fashion as possible, in order to avoid being pinned down about details. There is no requirement to defend a position, as in a real debate with real substance, nor is there any true give-and-take. Furthermore, there seems to be no requirement for accuracy. One is permitted to fling pseudo-facts around with abandon, and some silly sense of strategy prevents them from being challenged. Gods forbid that a candidate should look like he’s actually attacking his opponent!
Nor is there any attention to the rules of debate, which involve stating a position, listening carefully to the response, and responding thoughtfully to it — among others.
What I saw this week was a poorly-staged pair of lousy performances by a guy who is too far up in his own head to appeal to many watchers, and a would-be common man who was told by his handlers to sound passionate, and who tried to pull it off with a bluff. I saw no statesmanship on the one side, and little apart from cool appraisal on the other. There was no discussion. There was nothing offered by Romney in terms of intellectual content, and little offered by Obama except that. Neither impressed me very damn much, and I’d be disappointed with my candidate regardless of which side I was on.
Unfortunately, in the current vapid atmosphere that pervades TV-land, arm-waving seems to have prevailed; I think mostly because the other guy didn’t project anything that the reality-TV watchers could relate to. At least they understand arm-waving.
I wish Sarah Palin was back on the campaign trail. At least she was entertaining.
*But yes, I’ll probably watch the next one. Hope springs eternal…