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With early voting in place in 37 states and the debates often devolving into little more than just stump speeches these days, do we even need a third debate? Everyone always says in politics, a month is a long time to go, but in this day and age of constant streaming information, haven't they already said pretty much everything they could say (over and over and over) again?

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mightyafrodite wrote:
Oct. 8th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
I made the following comment on a previous journal entry, but it is most appropriate here:

We have the presumption in this country, out of a love for our own importance perhaps, that these debates are a fundamental tool to understanding a candidate's position. They're viewed as a forum to hear substantive information about platforms, policies and a grounding on the issues. These exchanges are billed as linchpins of the political process, a necessary hoop through which the candidate must pass en route to the final outcome in November. Voters, and the media representatives among us, all sit and try and decide which candidate won, whether they were giving answers with substance or blowing smoke, and how their performance affects the eventual outcome.

I wonder, what's actually flawed here: the candidates, or what we expect from a debate?

Contrary to what we want to tell ourselves, debates do not serve their highly vaunted purpose. They are not a forum in which the candidates are fully able to give a decisive, comprehensive presentation on their platforms. They are not a chance to hear a complete articulation of where they stand on the issues of the day. These debates are part of the pageantry of the presidential election cycle, an opportunity for voters to see how the candidates articulate themselves, how they answer questions and stand against their opponent. They offer a chance to see how a candidate maintains his or her composure in a formal debate setting or in a "town hall meeting" format. Perhaps in the age of politics before television, these gatherings were more substantial, offering a chance for candidates to go into greater depth, perhaps not. In the television era, however, there is no such opportunity to do nothing more in an hour and change but to demonstrate to the public how much each candidate knows about the issues and give the candidate a chance to connect with the viewing audience. Within the allotted time the candidates will answer questions to the best of their ability, dodge the question entirely, or answer it in a way that fits within their platform. They may do so well or fall flat on their faces, but it's what they do. Often an answer sounds like a stump speech; then again, the debate format caters to that tendency. Where these debates actually have an impact is on the potential "undecided voter" who is sitting on the fence and is pushed into one camp over another by something that goes beyond an appeal to the issues, that being how the candidate connects to that segment of the population.

The complaint about lack of substance in a debate does have validity, then, but only up to a certain point. There is no place that will give anywhere near as comprehensive of a view as most of us want than the candidates' platforms. These days, a candidate that hopes to make a major showing in the polls will have their platform available online. Those of us generally able to complain on this or other forums have the wherewithal to check into it. Rather than relying on the debates to get the information one complains is lacking, perhaps navigating to one of their websites would provide the answers? Most campaigns will also mail a copy of the platform, or local party offices will have them. There are also plenty of forums in which to check the facts. One has to be aware of whether or not "fact checkers" are in fact partisans in objective clothing, of course.

In other words, there's really no excuse not to know about a candidate's platform, unless he or she simply refrains from supplying one. These debates are not, and should not be the primary source from which a voter seeks an understanding of a candidate's position. If, however, that is the only means by which a voter tries to become informed, who's really the one to blame? If you want answers, they're easy to find. They may not be the ones you want, their mileage may vary, and you may still have questions and issues that require clarification. Yet it's certainly more proactive--and responsible--than waiting for the information to be spoon fed to you, only to get cranky when you're burped on the teats of a lesser cow.
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