Before the Republican debate this week, there was a lot of bluster from candidates and voters alike about the current format of the debates and the role of the moderators. This largely has to do with the perception of moderators as being members of a media elite, whose biases determine which candidates thrive and which ones flounder.
Now, while I may disagree with a few of the specific points in their premise, I tend to agree with the larger argument here; and that has nothing to do with Democrat vs. Republican or NBC vs. Fox. It has to do with the fact that our current debate format is so mind-numbingly superfluous to the job of being president that we might as well replace the moderators with Nick Cannon, split the candidates into 2 teams and have an episode of “Wildin’ Out” instead. It’d be just as relevant as a Ben Carson/John Kasich rap battle to decide the winner of the debate, and hey, it would be a ratings bonanza.
In all seriousness, have we ever really stopped and asked ourselves, as voters, what we actually gain from these televised cage matches? There is no illuminating exchange of ideas or thoughtful reasoning. There are no hearts moved or minds swayed. What we have instead is this intellectually fraudulent spectacle, where polished actors (politicians) masterfully deliver pre-rehearsed lines. Don’t be fooled, friends. As much as they’d have you believe that who they are on that stage is them at their most raw, their most organic, quite the opposite is true.
The sense of superficiality surrounding these debates is only compounded when you consider how little this particular set of skills applies to the actual job of being president. Tell me something—how often in any given presidency will a president be presented with a critically important situation, and have only 30 seconds to weigh all of their options, formulate a response, and communicate it in rousing fashion? There is virtually no scenario where a United States president doesn’t consult any of the hundreds of advisors and aides and consulates at his or her disposal, and take at least a few minutes to devise a carefully considered plan of action. But these debates don’t reward that kind of careful consideration.
The winners of rapid-fire debates like the ones we have currently are never the pensive, measured minds we’d all actually probably want behind the wheel. The ones who win these debates are the ones who shoot from the hip, the ones who speak passionately, without regard to accuracy or the truth. Those whose politics and personality fit into an easily digestible archetype; the reactionary, the bully, the fool.
There is an alternative to the vapidity of the debates as currently structured. Sophomore Hannah Hicks suggested, “The debate process would be way more substantive if there was one topic chosen, and each candidate was given something like 15 minutes to carefully consider what their position would be and what actions they might take as president. I just feel like there would be a lot more insight into the candidates instead of just five second snippets.” That’s not what gets the great ratings though, is it?
That’s just one of the numerous ways we could shake up the kind of showmanship politics that have pervaded this election cycle. But as Americans, if there’s one thing we love, it’s making a spectacle of ourselves. And therein lies the problem in changing the way we debate. Currently, a presidential debate is must-see TV, and naturally a windfall for the network that airs it.
In an era where politics and politicians (more specifically, both national parties) are more controlled by money than ever before, do we honestly expect to the controlling powers to stop lining their pockets for the sake of civic responsibility?