They should also be insulting to anyone with half a brain. Seriously, if anyone watches the debates and thinks they have any value, outside of highlighting how bad the candidates are (which we already know), should have their head examined. The debates were not always this bad. It was not that long ago that the debates had at lease some substance. I’m not saying they were pure and that the candidates were altruistic. At the same time they were far better than what we have today.
Many agree that the last great political debates were the 1984 Reagan / Mondale presidential debates. First, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of Ronald Reagan, nor do I care for Walter Mondale. One does not need to like a person to give credit where credit is due. It is no exception with these two candidates. As you can see in the following clip, their debate starkly contrasts what we see today. Again, I’m not saying they are being truthful and quite frankly I’m sure they lied just as much as any politician today. Regardless, these debates differ greatly. Reagan and Mondale are congenial, they actually answer the question posed to them rather than talk around it or attack their opponent, they disagree with each other without resorting to insults, and most important, they sound INTELLIGENT. Yes, the sets look like a public access cable show, the broadcasts lack the animated graphics that distract today’s viewers like a shiny fishing lure tying to hook the public, and there is no Wolf Blitzer with some useless holographic bar chart trying to extrapolate some useless statistic. And to me, someone who actually cares about the issues rather than be distracted from them, that’s a plus.
So when did it start to go south? Well, not long after the 1984 debate so it seems. The League of Women Voters(LWV) sponsored the debates from 1976 to 1984 and on October 2, 1988, that organization unanimously voted to remove themselves from sponsoring the debates. I’m not going to make the assertion that the League of Women Voters made the debates great. They are a political organization and like any other, they have their own biases and agenda that I’m sure impacted the debates in some way. Whether that impact was good or bad, I don’t know. However, there is something very telling about why they stopped sponsoring the debates. Their press release announcing their resignation also condemned the demands made by the candidates campaign parties. Then LWV President Nancy Neuman was quoted as saying the debate format would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter” and the organization did not want to “become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.” Obviously they realized something many did not and obviously no one wanted to listen to them.
Since 1988 debates were run by the Commission on Political Debates(CPD) and have seen nothing but a steady decline in their caliber over that time. The committee’s inception actually started in 1986 when the Democratic and Republican National Committee’s ratified and agreement for both parties to take over the debates. In 1987 the chairs of the RNC an DNC incorporated the CPD, and officially took over the debates in 1988. How no one saw and/or challenged this as a conflict of interest is beyond me. The CPD does nothing but create a conflict of interest where upon the candidates control everything about the debates to benefit them and keep the general public in the dark. This is a prime example of how Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same worthless coin and in bed with/for each other rather than for the people. That is an argument for another time.
Every four years the candidates meet to decide on a contract that dictates everything about the debates from who can participate, to what soft questions can be asked, to when the debates occur. These details are not known to the general public. However, we still see some telling things from the debates. Aside from the obviously soft questions we commonly see, the debates have become a strict two player game. The CPD pretty much guarantees a third party candidate will never participate in a presidential debate. We saw this in 1996 with Ross Perot despite the fact 75% of eligible voters supported his inclusion. We saw this again in 2000. Not only was Ralph Nader not allowed to debate, he was refused from entering an auxiliary viewing room despite having a ticket to be there. In reality, the CPD actually threatened to arrest him even though he had a ticket. Also in 1996, one debate was cancelled and the CPD scheduled the remaining two debates the night of baseball playoff games resulting in them being the least viewed debates to date. So much for having informed voters.
The primary debates are even more of a travesty. Being run by each party’s respective National Committee, they are all designed to be generally soft on the candidates. I was actually surprised that some of the questions on Fox New’s recent debate targeted some of the candidates weaknesses. Overall though, the debate was still pretty soft. And despite this, candidates still manage to show sound unintelligent and unqualified to be this close to running for President. The debates have devolved to a point where we have this…
The current debate structure has no intelligent value. As I said before, it only serves to show how bad our choices are which is something we already know. They only serve to propagate a fictitious two party system, parties that are more in bed with each than they are for the American people. And listening to the mindless dreck and rhetoric they spew only makes one less intelligent with each word that leaves each candidates mouth.
However, If you want politicians who give vague answers, talk around questions, or not answer them at all; If you want candidates that sound like they didn’t graduate high school; if you want candidates that interrupt and insult each other acting like they are five years old; if you want a president that is a misogynist; if you like flash graphics and useless post debate breakdowns by Fox, CNN, etc, then I guess the debates are your cup of tea.