Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Why Aren’t the Debates Debates?

 

I’ve always thought the presidential debates don’t seem like debates. Granted, with 12 to 16 people in one forum you probably need lincoln-douglas-debate-3extra guidance from a moderator. But when it comes to one-on-one debating, my hope would be that the moderator plays almost zero factor in who wins.

It seems best that the moderator simply say, “go” and “time’s up” and “over to you.” Is this naive?

There are 20 comments.

  1. Brian Wyneken Member

    The Lincoln Douglas were not moderated in the sense of having someone pose questions, but there were agreed upon rules and managers were present. In general, the candidates each spoke at length, and then had time to respond at length. Occasionally there were interruptions, but for the most part the reports indicate that the candidates were able to speak their minds without too much distraction.

    We’re living the legacy of Nixon-Kennedy, and the splash of television reigns. Maybe recent events will alter that to something more worthwhile. I don’t even watch the current debates – I think they’re just spectacles.

    Those are pretty flattering pictures of Lincoln and Douglas . . . I guess some things don’t change.

    • #1
    • October 30, 2015, at 2:56 PM PDT
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  2. John Walker Contributor

    Brian Wyneken: We’re living the legacy of Nixon-Kennedy, and the splash of television reigns.

    But if you watch the Nixon-Kennedy debates (here is the first one):

    even though there is a panel of correspondents asking questions, the format is much closer to a true debate, the answers are much longer and detailed, and the focus on policy is more acute. I think we’re looking at a half century of the transformation of journalism into entertainment, as prophesied by 1976’s Network.

    But the parties are complicit in this. If the parties wanted to have true debates or serious correspondents asking substantive questions, they could simply stage their own. Do they think the major networks would not cover them if they made the feed generally available? And today, does that even matter? I was unable to watch the CNBC debate because I do not have a “U.S. Cable Provider” which carries that network.

    • #2
    • October 30, 2015, at 3:31 PM PDT
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  3. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps

    John Walker:

    even though there is a panel of correspondents asking questions, the format is much closer to a true debate, the answers are much longer and detailed, and the focus on policy is more acute. I think we’re looking at a half century of the transformation of journalism into entertainment, as prophesied by 1976’s Network.

    But the parties are complicit in this. If the parties wanted to have true debates or serious correspondents asking substantive questions, they could simply stage their own. Do they think the major networks would not cover them if they made the feed generally available? And today, does that even matter? I was unable to watch the CNBC debate because I do not have a “U.S. Cable Provider” which carries that network.

    Why have the parties followed along? Do they think they won’t be watched? The argument has been advanced that you need to reach the undecided over 70 demo which seems to me to be a stretch. Sure, have one traditional TV confab for those people. The rest of the electorate can watch the real debates on Youtube or whatever, right?

    Would it change who voted if the debates were more like real debates? If low information voters gonna be low information voters, why would we care to structure the debate for them?

    • #3
    • October 30, 2015, at 5:07 PM PDT
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  4. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps

    John Walker:

    Brian Wyneken: We’re living the legacy of Nixon-Kennedy, and the splash of television reigns.

    But if you watch the Nixon-Kennedy debates (here is the first one):

    even though there is a panel of correspondents asking questions, the format is much closer to a true debate, the answers are much longer and detailed, and the focus on policy is more acute. I think we’re looking at a half century of the transformation of journalism into entertainment, as prophesied by 1976’s Network.

    Woah, that debate kept it real. I was actually interested in hearing what they had to say versus hoping for a one-two sound byte punch to put the moderator in his place.

    • #4
    • October 30, 2015, at 5:11 PM PDT
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  5. Brian Wyneken Member

    The “legacy” to which I was referring is the often told and repeated story that radio listeners seemed to think Nixon had performed much better than those who watched the debate on television. Kennedy had the smile and the visual presence that Nixon lacked. I was only five at the time, and would have preferred “Mighty Mouse,” but I remember my parents watching this.

    This event is often cited in media training as a benchmark – where knowing how to play to the camera became as or more important than the substance of the message.

    • #5
    • October 30, 2015, at 7:34 PM PDT
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  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ve always wondered about the TV/radio divide in the 1960 debate. Television was not as newfangled as it had been even ten years before, but there were still plenty of households without them and radio’s broadcast footprint would still have been larger than television’s in rural areas. Perhaps the winner was being judged more on the message than on the medium.

    • #6
    • October 31, 2015, at 1:45 AM PDT
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  7. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    I have spent a good deal of my life reading about the Civil War and the years that led up to it. What has always struck me was the wonderful love of language that seem to exist at the time. Perhaps, the best example is the letter quoted in Ken Burns documentary history written just prior to the battle of Mannasas.

    I suspect that to a large extent the changes are due to television and the loss of reading as a form of entertainment. Reading a book takes time. Situations aren’t resolved in a 60 minute time frame, and descriptions of places and events require the reader to use his or her imagination to visualize the event or scenery.

    People learned to both speak and listen in those days. Lincoln was a master of speech. The Gettysburg Address is an example of the best use of language. No one in the modern era has demonstrated that kind of succinctness other than, perhaps, Churchill.

    I don’t think that there aren’t great speakers anymore, simply very few with the patience to listen.

    • #7
    • October 31, 2015, at 5:47 AM PDT
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  8. Larry3435 Member

    The Lincoln-Douglas debates were the result of a confluence of unusual circumstances. Great speakers debating a critical issue that divided the nation. There was no room there for pablum cliches or vague, meaningless promises. There was one issue. It was pretty much yes or no on that issue, and speakers had to make the case for their side. That is what made it a true debate.

    On the other hand, it is worth remembering that debates did no good. It took a war to resolve the issue.

    • #8
    • October 31, 2015, at 5:54 AM PDT
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  9. Crabby Appleton Inactive

    Here’s how it should be done. Candidate A approaches Candidate B and proposes a one on one debate. ” I’ll arrange the venue. You propose two topics and I will choose. We meet, we debate. I post the debate on my campaign web site and you post it on yours, if you want. Then we distribute it on social media for the voters. You and me, one on one, waddya say?”. To heck with the RNC or the commercial media.!

    • #9
    • October 31, 2015, at 6:23 AM PDT
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  10. MSJL Thatcher
    MSJL Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I don’t think it’s naive; it’s exactly what I was hoping for as well. [Caveat: I don’t think I’m naive, either.”]

    It seems to me that at the Democrat debate Anderson Cooper basically would ask a question and more-or-less go through all the candidates. Democrats then get to hear each of their candidates address the same policy issue. That may not be uniformly true, but I think generally accurate.

    Everyone of these GOP debates has been a cringe worthy debacle.

    First, they are not debates but competing interviews. Perhaps that was necessary for the first as an introduction, but there is no further need for that format.

    Second, the general format is 101 questions with 90-second answers and constant interruptions from the moderators. Why not come up with four or five, general policy questions (what is America’s role in the world; if the budget is on track to be X by 2021, where do you expect the budget to be by the end of your first term and how will you do it; what is your approach to fixing entitlements; gun rights in America and how to address mass shootings; etc.)? Then give each candidate 3 minutes to address and some rebuttal. It’s the beginning of a primary campaign and moderators are arguing over the statistical impact proposed marginal rates. I would rather start getting an understanding of their general approach to conservative governance and policy, while offered the ability to compare and contrast with other competing views.

    Third, the first two debates were the Trump Show and I think CNBC tried to take it in that direction, as well. As someone trying to select candidates, I don’t care about what Trump tweeted about other women, what he said about Carly’s face, what he said about Bush’s wife, etc. Trust us, we’ve taken the measure of the man. I don’t need to keep someone like Scott Walker waiting to speak so that monkeys can fling feces across the stage. Republicans were very poorly served by these “debates” while the networks drove their ratings.

    Fourth, of course all of this requires a change in outlook by the moderators. The Kennedy-Nixon, Carter-Reagan debates were as successful as they were because the moderators understood their professional role to be reporters of the news and not makers of the news. The CNBC moderators in particular seemed to think that I cared what they thought of the candidate’s answers. One other problem with the 90-second answers, is that we get to listen to the moderators too much. Perhaps one rule reform is an absolute cap in the single digits on the number of questions that the moderators can ask.

    Fifth, the most charitable take on the current “debates” is that the moderators actually don’t know how to moderate a debate. They are trained in combative interviews and it shows. We need a different talent pool.

    • #10
    • October 31, 2015, at 6:27 AM PDT
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  11. Crabby Appleton Inactive

    EUGENE: ” I don’t think that there aren’t great speakers anymore, simply very few with the patience to listen.”

    It isn’t that there aren’t great speakers or patient listeners. Lincoln and Douglas debated an important issue – the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the extension of slavery. There are plenty of crucial issues of great interest to the electorate, it’s just that the current debate format positively forbids detailed thorough informative explanation of candidates policy positions in the forums as presented.

    • #11
    • October 31, 2015, at 6:31 AM PDT
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  12. Dr. Strangelove Thatcher
    Dr. Strangelove Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Why Aren’t the Debates Debates? Because functionally they are akin to parallel concurrent press conferences.

    Of course my answer isn’t exactly correct. The most obvious difference between these “debates” and a normal press conference is that these “debates” involve reporter calling on candidate to answer a question instead of candidate calling on reporters for a question.

    • #12
    • October 31, 2015, at 6:36 AM PDT
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  13. Pelicano Member

    The only debate format I’ve found remotely useful was Rick Warren’s interview style forum in 2008. If I remember correctly, he interviewed the candidates one at a time, asking the same questions. As a result, there was more time for the candidates to develop their thoughts. With ten candidates that might not work, but it provided better depth.

    • #13
    • October 31, 2015, at 7:46 AM PDT
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  14. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Party needs to revise the rules as to who gets onto which stage. If they’re going to do a main event and an undercard, put the top 4 on the main stage, and let the rest duke it out on the undercard. The winner of the undercard goes to the main stage in the next debate, making a total of 5. That’ll start to winnow out the bottom feeders.

    I realize that the presence of Trump and Carson at the top gives them a bigger role, but it would also require them to fish or cut bait on the issues. As much as I admire Ben Carson, he’s not going to win the nomination. More exposure on issues of which he has little mastery will convince him of that, and I think he’s honorable enough to drop out.

    Trump needs a higher wire to walk, making it more likely he’ll fall off. That’s where the choice of moderator and format become critical. Insist on moderators who aren’t simply shills for their respective networks’ points of view and give the candidates 5 minutes each, forcing them to speak in full sentences in support of their soundbites. Even Trump will find it difficult filling that much time with his brand of hot air. He’s eventually going to hang himself, he just needs to be given more rope.

    • #14
    • October 31, 2015, at 8:22 AM PDT
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  15. Man With the Axe Member

    That low humming sound you hear is Kennedy and Nixon spinning in their graves when they hear Trump speaking during one of the current debates. The dignity that these two men showed to each other and to the audience is shocking in its anachronism.

    The central problem with the current debates is the approach taken by the moderators. Ten participants is too many for the Nixon-Kennedy format, but why couldn’t the ten all be asked the same serious questions of general application, instead of the painfully absurd personalized questions that were asked in all three debates, especially those asked of Trump, which seemed to set the tone. Why not do something like this:

    • Mr. Trump, what is your plan to increase economic growth? Mr. Rubio, what is your plan? and so on for all of them. One minute max.
    • Mr. Trump, you took the opportunity of our question on economic growth to attack Mr. Carson for being “low energy.” That is a violation of the debate rules and so you will not be given the opportunity for a closing statement, per the rules that you agreed to. Your time will be distributed to the other participants.
    • Ms. Fiorina, what do you think the Unites States should do about ISIS? Mr. Huckabee, what do you think we should do?
    • Mr. Huckabee, you went over your time on that question by 25 seconds so that amount of time will be subtracted from the time allotted for your closing statement.
    • #15
    • October 31, 2015, at 8:46 AM PDT
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  16. Man With the Axe Member

    To follow up on #15:

    • Do away with the absurd practice of giving time to respond because someone’s name was mentioned.
    • Absolutely no interruptions or calling out.
    • Everyone gets exactly the same amount of time.
    • #16
    • October 31, 2015, at 9:00 AM PDT
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  17. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    As a follow-up question to the one posed (see what I did there?), who do you suppose would win a Lincoln-Douglas style debate today?

    My guess? Cruz.

    • #17
    • October 31, 2015, at 9:19 AM PDT
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  18. La Tapada Member

    MSJL:…The CNBC moderators in particular seemed to think that I cared what they thought of the candidate’s answers…

    This! Exactly!

    • #18
    • October 31, 2015, at 10:54 AM PDT
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  19. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    Brian Wyneken:The “legacy” to which I was referring is the often told and repeated story that radio listeners seemed to think Nixon had performed much better than those who watched the debate on television. Kennedy had the smile and the visual presence that Nixon lacked.

    That is indeed the usual story, but it may be a myth; I’ve read that there actually isn’t much strong data to support it. But that’s beside the point: the legacy you speak of is doubtless real, even if it’s based on an unreliable anecdote. I suspect much of how political campaigns are conducted is based on unscientific beliefs and hunches. It would explain a lot, actually.

    • #19
    • October 31, 2015, at 11:22 AM PDT
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  20. Liberty Belle Inactive

    Larry3435:The Lincoln-Douglas debates were the result of a confluence of unusual circumstances. Great speakers debating a critical issue that divided the nation. There was no room there for pablum cliches or vague, meaningless promises. There was one issue. It was pretty much yes or no on that issue, and speakers had to make the case for their side. That is what made it a true debate.

    On the other hand, it is worth remembering that debates did no good. It took a war to resolve the issue.

    In addition, The Lincoln-Douglass Debates were not presidential debates. Rather, they were debates to convince the Illinois Legislature to award the Senate seat to represent Illinois in the U. S. Senate (pre-17th Amendment). Lincoln lost, Douglass won, but it prepared the groundwork for electing Lincoln as President. If you want to hear a robust discussion of these debates, check out the Hillsdale Dialogues. Hugh Hewitt and Dr. Larry Arnn discuss these debates in detail. Here is the link to the first hour: http://online.hillsdale.edu/hillsdaledialogues?_ga=1.260209352.47936048.1436995609

    Choose 5-22-15

    The rest follow sequentially and can be found by going to http://www.Hillsdale.edu and choosing Hillsdale Dialogues from the Outreach Dropdown menu. Enjoy.

    • #20
    • October 31, 2015, at 4:04 PM PDT
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