The Not So Great Debate
Why are political debates so dull and boring? I had trouble staying awake at the most recent one with Jay Inslee and Rob Mckenna. Maybe I was over medicated! It may be that the exchanges are so brief that no one has the time to develop a good argument let alone a good story. Stories are what create drama and excitement and memorable confrontations. We are not talking about “gotcha” lines or phrases. We are talking about human beings who have authentic humanity and passion. Something has been lost when the facts and issues are boiled down to ninety seconds or even thirty seconds.
And what has happened to ability of the audience to participate in the moment? Are we to sit like bumps on a log as the “battle” goes on before us? Are we trying to drain all emotion out of a situation that has almost become clinical in an antiseptic atmosphere? Politics is tuning into bad theater!
These aren’t debates as much as they are either joint press conferences or a moderated discussion. It isn’t necessary to draw blood to make an interesting clash of minds and philosophy. Or don’t we have politicians who are capable of filling five or six minutes of time with provocative proposals instead of pompous punditry? Politics is a contact sport and it should be about real people putting forth challenging ideas with illustrations to back them up. But that doesn’t mean that there should be personal attacks and dripping sarcasm that Rush would envy.
The debaters need to realize even in a pathetic format of the briefest sound bites, that it isn’t what you say, it’s what people hear! What do you remember about the Inslee-McKenna event? Did either of them make you feel that they going beyond what the audience was listen for? Wasn’t there more pandering than probing? And do they both realize that they are trying to get the support of the people who are not either yellow dog Democrats or reactionary Republicans? They are “trying out” for a position in the electoral enterprise. You would think they would at least smile a little and not take themselves too seriously! Are they trying to show that they are the smartest people in the room and infinitely smarter than the opponent? Wrong approach boys! Rob Mckenna reminded me of George Will and George Will has always reminded me of the smart ass kid on the play ground who made you want to pinch his head off. Jay Inslee has a certain boyish charm but runs the risk of being a cross between nothing at all and nothing at all. His best moments came when he talked about the “banksters” on Wall Street except he wasn’t bold enough to call them by name.
So the format sucks. What can a creative candidate do to overcome the restraints? They can have stories that fit the time constraints that amuse and touch the emotions of the audience. Hard to do but far from impossible. And they can ask questions more and make fewer statements. By asking questions they can convey their position and engage the listeners at the same time. Make them think and consider. They shouldn’t express condecention but they should talk to the opponent with respect yet expect to draw some response to what they have said. The “debate” at The Bing gave the impression that the most important person in the room was the moderator! And the moderator was anything but. He was the third debater in the place trying to be fair but questioning each candidate. He seemed to be trying to show his debating chops!
I found the process sterile and uninformative. What do they really think and feel? Now, the odds are almost completely against them being bold and forthright. They still need to get about ten million dollars to fund their campaigns under the current conditions. It is called “playing it safe” and pleasing the big contributors. It was just about worth the price of admission.
Filed under: Debates
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