The dismal failure of the debates

It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump and Election Day will be upon us. Although debates possess potential to help us view candidates more fully, and even to shift momentum as seems to have occurred after the first debate, they can frequently run as shallow as a drought stream in August. More likely we remember them for their gaffes, or their generating new memes such as President Obama’s “bayonet” analogy of the last debate, the likeability of the proponents, their apparent command of facts, etc.

Alas, the casualty is more likely to be substance. Whatever happened to seismic suffering and its inveterate challenge? From these debates you would gather poverty–think the likes of Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia–has been solved. And global warming? While we may debate its causes, we cannot deny its consequences, already upon us and mapping our future. Think about it: three debates (four, if you include the veep debate) and not one question on global warming! I hold that we define ourselves not only by what we say, but by what we omit.

In all the debates, moderators have played a big share in their failure by not asking the sizzling questions on issues such as nuclear proliferation. If nothing else, these debates have mirrored a colossal absorption with ourselves in their shocking indifference to the plight of our earth and its increasingly beleaguered populace, not just the American middle class.

Must all moderators derive from the press, often with their own hidden biases? We would do better with the likes of someone like Fareed Zakaria, whose mainstay is to sound out the truth rather than adumbrate ideology. Or perhaps a panel approach of disparate moderators to provide for balance, scope, and substance would offer us better vistas.

In so many ways, these debates have failed all of us in their platitudes and cliches. Consider the matter of economics, rightly a center piece for focus in the Great Recession. To promise more jobs and balanced budgets should not be conflated with result. We must get at the devil in the details. Two unacknowledged integral factors posing destabilization of the middle class with no easy, if any, resolutions are vested in globalization and the digital revolution. Third world workers can now compete in a global market place at lower cost. Meanwhile, the digital revolution means more jobs going through the shredder. Increased stimulus spending is unlikely to dent their effects and may ultimately even complicate our morass.

At the worst, we can take the ostrich approach and bury our heads in the sand. (Our debates show we have a talent for this.) At the best, we can at least probe for solutions.

More than ever, we need to preempt the political capacity for glibness rather than substance. In an elbow-touching world menaced with the damocles sword of marginalized income and hammer blows to Nature’s resiliency, it behooves us to hold our candidates’ feet to the fire.

Anything less subjects ourselves to further political manipulation and erosion of trust, complicating our future.

Be well,


Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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