The Debates Are Not A Waste of Time

Presidential Debate Banner, Denver (Randy Slavey)

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.”

We live in an amazing country. We live in a country where two candidates who have argued with each other for months through negative ads and straw-man attacks can now come together and discuss the issues in a respectful way.One of my friends said, “Romney won the debate, but it doesn’t matter. Obama will get elected anyway.” If these debates are purely for  influencing polls, then yes, they typically don’t have much effect. Still, this one certainly did. Romney has now overtaken Obama in two of the three major battleground states, significantly closing his lead in the third.

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.

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10 responses to “The Debates Are Not A Waste of Time

  1. Good apologia in favor of this institution. You’re right about the extended time for answers compared to past debates; we should be lucky if future campaigns agree to it.

  2. It is estimated that half of the voting public watched the debate. This was the second highest rated Presidential Debate ever – and they have been around since 1960. The advantage of this debate, unlike many others, is that the moderator did not enforce strict (1-2 minute) time limits – which have been used as artificial rules in many past debates. Instead, this format (agreed to in advance by both candidates) did not have such time limits. This format allowed the two competitors to essentially have a back-and-forth discussion. I found it refreshing. Instead of “practiced and canned responses and phrases” which we hear when strict time limits are used, or sound bites or advertisements, we got to see the real and unfiltered candidates. That is what made this format so valuable, and thus this debate valuable to the between 60 and 70 million Americans that watched it.

    The other point I would like to add is that some debates, based on structure (rules) and peril to the country at the time of the debate, are more valuable and watched by more, than others. The other debate that actually had even higher viewership than this one was in 1980…when the nation was similarly challenged both fiscally and abroad. So, when things are relatively calm, these debates may be less closely followed. But in times of distress, they are invaluable, and are watched by many.

    • I didn’t know that fact! That is amazing though. Shows the parallels between now and 1980 – we’ll see if the election/poll results are similar to then as well!

  3. I agree! I’m often one of the ‘uninformed’ and even though I cannot get all my questions answered from the debates I find I can learn the differences between candidates and can draw some conclusions about whom I agree with. My family and I actually looked up a couple of the bills discussed that we hadn’t heard before so that we knew what they were talking about…so we’re more educated now too!

    • Excellent! I’m glad you were able to look them up! The point of this blog is to educate people after all, so I’m glad the debates signed on to my mission. 😉

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