EDITORIAL: Presidential debates: less style more issues

By Staff Writer
October 7, 2004

The first presidential debate between the candidates, President Bush and Senator Kerry produced ratings of almost 63 million viewers. It appears voters are interested in the television debates, however the question remains do these debates offer any new influential facts to persuade and dissuade voters in their choices?

By the end of the debates, did any new relevant information come from either candidate? In a previous negotiated contract by the two presidential nominees, the format of the debate was laid out in a way that was convenient for both. Does the convenience of the candidate factor heavier over the voters’ pursuit of their presidential hopeful’s agenda?

The decision to take over the debate forum was decided by the two individual parties, Republican and Democratic. The parties approved an agreement to run the presidential debates by organizing the “non-partisan” Commission on Presidential Debates in 1986.

Each election year the Commission on Presidential Debates work with the Republican and Democratic party on the rules for the debate. Should this “non-partisan” organization concern itself over the candidates’ comfort or should they prepare themselves in a way that will help the voters in their decisions?

As of right now the television debates are only a means for the presidential nominees to regurgitate the same message over and over again. Even though the moderator is chosen to develop questions for each candidate, for the most part these questions are relatively safe ones.

The concept of the presidential debates is great and has definitely been influential in election history. The downside of these presidential forums is that they rarely spark conversation about the issues that concern voters. Rather the viewers are turning off their televisions arguing about who appeared more professional or more charismatic.

If the television audience is leaving the debates conversing over the speakers’ blunders, is it time for the Commission on Presidential Debates to change the format to a more standard structure with more give and take on both sides. Unfortunately the days of a good old-fashioned debate like the Lincoln-Douglas debates are long gone.

Today’s debates have voters focusing on a presidential nominee’s mistakes and visual flaws under pressure as opposed to a useful debate where the issues are discussed and examined. Is it asking too much from the candidates for them to give the voters some insight into what the voter can expect for the next four years under their presidency?

Why don’t the voters speak up about reforming the presidential debate structure? Why is it that after hearing the presidential debates, news organizations are always more concerned about how the presidential hopeful presented himself? Perhaps the underlying reason is that there was nothing else to discuss.

After hearing weeks of attack ads, the information the voters receive from the candidates is nothing more than rehashed mudslinging. Voters really only get a true perspective of the candidates during the television debates, so wouldn’t it be reasonable to provide the viewers the chance to hear something practical like their future agenda.

The fault lays within the Commission on Presidential Debates not the television networks that broadcast the debates. The commission should act like a “non-partisan” group and work without the influence of the two political parties.

The debates are opportunities to observe the candidates unedited and in the moment. Shouldn’t the structure be beneficial to the voters not the candidates? The presidency is a difficult job so why make the debates easy. It proves nothing by doing so.

While it is true that if a viewer goes into the debates with a strong partisan conviction, the debate will probably not change their mind, however there is the undecided voter who is important in this close election. The debates and goals of the candidates for the office of president are vital to the outcome of the race.

Posted to the web by Ryan Norris

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Staff Writer

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