For the past few days I’ve been struggling to write a blog post about the third presidential debate and wrap up any relevant and fresh information that came from all of them. However, the more I’ve tried to write (and re-write and edit) this post, I’ve come to realize I’m going about it all wrong. I think I’ve come to understand WHY I’ve been having such a difficult time with this post.
The debates aren’t all that relevant. They aren’t new. They aren’t fresh. There isn’t anything at all that hasn’t been said already a million times during the year and a half of campaigning up to them. Instead, the debates are just a reiteration of all the standard talking point memos from both camps. Along with, of course, numerous obfuscations and lies about what’s been said previously in order to not appear too “radical” or “extreme.”
People, we live in the information age now! We live in a world that can be fact checked instantly and communicated immediately. Why is it that we’re still watching debates that don’t incorporate and reflect our changed world? Even the protesters participating in the Arab Spring made use of Twitter and Facebook in real time, for crying out loud!
During the second presidential debates, moderator Candy Crowley did a spot of spontaneous fact checking when Romney was trying to claim it took weeks for Obama to call the incident in Libya and “act of terror.” (In fact, Obama had called it an “act of terror” in the Rose Garden the very next day.)
For her efforts, she was raked over the coals and villainized by the far right. It was used as just another example of the “liberal bias” found in media. They said that she interrupted Romney during a “major moment” and deflated his momentum.
Um, hello? What she did was exactly RIGHT! We shouldn’t be ostracizing her for this, we should be encouraging this type of behavior. In fact, this is perfectly within the realm of duties for moderator. They should be posing direct questions, keeping candidates on point, preventing obvious lies from going undisputed.
What I’d like to see for the next election cycle is an incorporation of these tools DURING the debates, not just afterwards. Afterall, the people who have the potential of being swayed by these debates probably aren’t going to be reading up and fact checking afterwards. (More on that later.)
Now, to be honest, I’m not sure exactly how incorporating these on-the-spot fact checks would look. However, I am sure that there are plenty of people with vision out there who are better equipped than I am to answer that question.
I think having the facts, references and citations readily available throughout the debate would do two things. It would greatly reduce the amount of outright whoppers candidates would be allowed to tell, because they would instantly be labeled a LIAR in front of everybody. This would subject them to public ridicule immediately and, hopefully, teach them that lying doesn’t help them achieve the goals that it once did.
It would also help better inform and educate the audience who may not be well-versed on the subject matter. That is the point of these debates, afterall. To allow the voters a chance to hear and see, straight from the candidates mouths, what their positions are on any given topic. We should be working to make the information as accurate as possible so people can make the best decisions for themselves.
Who knows? Maybe graphics and interjections would be too intrusive. At the very least, I’d love to see a few specific citations and references being used by the candidates themselves during their answers and speeches that help direct the viewers to where they can look up what they’re referring to and where they’re getting their statistics. Something like, “On this <date> in <this town> you said this, “blah blah blah.”
Instead of “many studies have concluded my way is right,” they could say, “Studies from non-partisan groups such as Group A, B, and C have concluded my way is right.” That way, I can go look up and see for myself what they concluded and whether it fits into the overall context.
While I’m on this little diatribe, it’s not just the format that I have issues with in regards to the presidential debates; it’s also the intended audience. Let’s agree that these debates are not really for the people who have already made up their mind, but for the ones that the candidates still have hope of convincing. Think about the people who are in a position to be swayed by these debates…the ever elusive “undecideds.” Do they even exist at this late date in the run up to the elections? Or, rather, are they the mythical unicorns of politics?
And, if they DO exist out there, WHY are they still undecided? I really don’t understand how anybody could not have made up their mind by now on who they’re going to vote for. Especially after everything that has happened in the past year.
Have they been living under a rock? Setting aside the onslaught of airtime and commercials, there’s this brand new thing called the internet that has any number of articles, videos, speech transcripts and voting records that YOU, the voter, can reference.
Yes, many of the articles are not entirely factual. Yes, there is media biased reporting being done from both sides. However, there are ways to find the facts that cannot be altered. There are non-partisan groups that simply report what’s been said, what’s been voted on, who someone has endorsed, etc. There are these things called videos that allow you to watch the candidate speak for him or herself on any number of topics in countless settings.
In light of these facts, I’ve started to think that the only way you could truly be “undecided” in late October before a presidential election is that:
A) You don’t care and aren’t going to vote, anyway, or
B) You’re simply one of those people that can’t make a choice, be it for who should be president or whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or
C) You are willfully choosing to remain ignorant and haven’t done due diligence to make an informed decision.
So, let’s tackle that supposed audience, shall we? If you are the kind of person who doesn’t care and isn’t probably going to vote anyway, then what is the point of the campaigns and politicians pandering to you and trying to win you over? None. Chances are, you’re not even watching the debates to begin with.
If you’re the type of person that needs half an hour to figure out what you want to order at a restaurant, or vacillates on which slacks to wear in the morning (ok, I’ll admit to that last one,) then you probably have bigger problems than choosing what president to vote for. Seriously, it’s amazing you can get yourself out of the house on any given day! I’m not sure that our presidential candidates should be holding their breaths on you making a decision by November.
Finally, we come to the meat of this argument. If you are the person who hasn’t taken the time, at some point in the last year and a half, to access the millions of resources out there that can help you make a well-informed decision, then why are we hanging the next four year’s hopes on you?
I know this is probably going to offend some people. However, I truly believe someone has to willfully choose to remain ignorant at this point if they are still undecided. I’m having a hard time understanding why we should be catering to the lowest common denominator of our voting citizenry in order to make the most important decision of our government and politics.
And, what does all this catering accomplish? Instead of a substantive and in-depth conversation about problems that are not black and white, and have no easy solutions, we score our debates on style and form. Who got the best zinger in? Who made the biggest gaffe? Who looked the most confident? Who got the most words in edge-wise and looked like a “leader?”
If you’re basing your decision on who to vote for by who you’d would most like to have a beer with, then you’re doing it wrong and probably shouldn’t be voting. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a HUGE proponent and advocate that everybody should be allowed to vote. However, whether you SHOULD vote is another thing.
A voter has the obligation and responsibility to be well-informed and make a decision, to the best of their ability, on who they feel will better serve in whatever elected office the candidate is running for. You do yourself and your country a disservice if you do anything less.
So, there you have it. My overall impressions of the debates in one fell swoop. I knew who I was voting for going into them, and I’m still going to vote for him walking away from them. I think the solution to making these things more important again (as opposed to having them just be three ring circuses where you put the candidates on display and have them perform tricks) is to hold them earlier in the election cycle and make use of our technology to fact check and reference what’s being said.
If you’ve managed to get through this epically long post, I’d love to hear what you think!