I, like millions of others, watched Wednesday evening’s presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. The experience was frustrating as a viewer in that I left with little sense of what either candidate would actually do specifically if he were to win. Ultimately, watching it felt like a wasted investment. I thought more about how the moderator figured in to the equation, trying to push the candidates to be “as specific as possible.” Unfortunately, they were just words, and there was no stopping the candidates from answering the questions however they wanted to.
Accordingly, I started reflecting on what the purpose of presidential debates is, and I believe the intention is to educate the public so that the public has the best information and can, in turn, make the most educated decision at the voting booth. The problem? These debates confuse the viewers even more than they were to begin with. Sadly, the presidential debates have become the latest incarnation of an anything-goes reality show, and the whole spectacle is just a guilty pleasure from which no good comes and nothing changes as a result. Come on, we’ve got better things to do with our time!
Moderators and the public at large shouldn’t trust the presidential candidates to be honest in these debates. Left to their own devices, they’ll just do whatever it takes to say the right things and get the votes they want. However, the structure of the debates should be set up in a much more specific and structured way that prevents the candidates from dodging critical questions. For example, when talking about the economy in the debate, it would have been more effective to take three scenarios and have each candidate discuss how their own plans would impact each scenario. You could take a single person, a low-income family, and middle-class family and actually discuss numbers.
Why, I wonder, do those in charge of these debates not demand more specifics from our candidates—as opposed to simply asking nicely? It’s frustrating and confusing as a viewer, and nothing gets accomplished from simply dispatching hot air without specifics.
Do these candidates know that they’re coming across as sneaky and that they are doing a disservice to their constituents by adding to the confusion? We probably all agree that they’re well aware of it, right? I imagine that the candidates would defend themselves by saying that the issues are so complicated that it’s impossible to break the issues down in highly specific terms. Yet this defense isn’t sufficient.
I didn’t get the sense that either candidate would care if a given viewer felt more confused about their respective policies after the debate than before. No, these candidates are seasoned politicians, which means they necessarily lost at least a degree of honesty and transparency along the way, reassuring any guilty conscience they may have that “it’s just politics” or “the way the game is played.”
At the end of the day, a viewer should watch one debate and feel more motivated to watch the next one in order to get more information. But I’m one viewer who might sit the next one out, and will return when the candidates work harder to educate us. After all, it’s a presidential debate, aka the big leagues. We shouldn’t feel like we’re watching a smoke-and-mirrors show at the local carnival, and I think we should expect better from the next president of the United States. Long live hope.