A Bad Night For Democracy

Tuesday night’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was like a professional wrestling match… only without the sophistication.

At least the WWE entertainers let each other finish their monologues before they launch into combat.  There was no such courtesy extended in the presidential debate.

Liberal and conservative commentators alike condemned the fiasco.

The Wall Street Journal opined, “The event was a spectacle of insults, interruptions, endless cross-talk, exaggerations and flat-out lies even by the lying standards of current U.S. politics.  Our guess is that millions of Americans turned away after 30 minutes, and we would have turned away too if we didn’t do this for a living.”

Dan McLaughlin writing in the National Review called it “probably the worst debate in American history.”

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote, “Partisans will call winners and losers as they see them, and those judgments will be predictable. But collectively, this was not a night when the country could claim victory.  Instead it was quite the opposite.”

Indeed.

I keep thinking about Americans who are not obsessed by the day-to-day of presidential politics but consider it their civic duty as the election draws near to become informed before they vote. What did they think?

Some surely turned off the debate as it quickly devolved into acrimonious crosstalk.  Perhaps others gutted out the full 90 minutes but came away with a “none-of-the-above” conclusion.  Maybe the real winner Tuesday night was a candidate not on the stage—Libertarian Jo Jorgensen.

Clearly, there must be changes in the format before the next debate, and the Commission on Presidential Debates has promised additional structure to “ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

The rules for Tuesday night’s debate allowed for the moderator to use the balance of time in a segment “for a deeper discussion of the topic.”

That’s a good idea in principle, but in practice it was a major fail.  Most devolved into hectoring that frequently strayed off target and made it even more difficult for moderator Chris Wallace to maintain control.

Rush Limbaugh suggested yesterday that Wallace tried too hard to control the debate and he should have just let the arguments continue.  Or I guess we could put them both in a cage, suspend it over a pool filled with alligators and wait for one of them to get tossed in.

Give the moderator the ability to turn off the microphone of a candidate who consistently ignores the guidelines. A good moderator will allow candidates some latitude, but Tuesday night demonstrated how the situation can quickly, and repeatedly, get out of control.

The country is on edge right now.  What we needed was a spirited, informative and respectful debate for the highest office in the land.  Instead we got more chaos.





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