A friend of mine posted a Facebook status about halfway through the presidential debate on Wednesday, saying, “This is a waste of time.” She is wrong.
I’m reasonably confident that the rest of you are just as annoyed as I am by the constant Facebook posts, the speculation, and the back-and-forth arguing between people who say things they would never dream of saying in person. Suddenly the uninformed become political experts, the “fact-checks” from competing news sites receive thousands of shares, and no one gets anywhere.
But it’s all worth it. I posted one status about the debate, and this is what it said:
“Whether you hate politics or whether you are a die-hard supporter of one of the candidates, watch this debate. This is one of the most amazing qualities of our democracy.”
However, I believe the debates serve a greater purpose than just “bouncing polls”. The debates also help to inform the uninformed as to the political issues being discussed. Voters, if they simply choose to turn on the TV for two hours on Wednesday night, can learn a great deal about the problems facing our country. With simple questions such as “What are your differences on the economy?”, the moderator began the discussion and then “got out of the way”, allowing free and enlightening back-and-forth arguments between Romney and Obama.
The debates bring up an excellent preview of what both candidates describe as “two fundamentally different paths” facing our country. If you missed the presidential debate, at least watch the short section where the candidates discussed “the proper role of government.” It’s a great starting point for understanding the underlying conflict between Republicans and Democrats.
The candidates also put forth many statistics, numbers, and specific policy arguments. Contrary from being dismissed as “over the public’s head”, as some claimed, these types of facts allow for empirical and unbiased observation rather than flowery rhetoric. Both candidates can (and did) say they “care for the middle class”, but looking at the numbers can offer a great deal of clarity. It is also considerably easier to fact-check number claims than policy promises.
Next week, I will break down some of the specific quotes and arguments from the first debate. But until then, realize how blessed we are to have these debates. Our government does not try to suppress political speech. We are able to have debates aired live on national television, preventing censorship or selective editing.
The presidential debates are not a waste of time. In fact, they are among the most valuable moments of elections – opportunities for the candidates and the American public to participate in respectful political speech.