Presidential Debates are an Insult to Our Collective Intelligence

Election '08

Presidential debates aren't really debates. These faux debates are bad for democracy. Debates should inform voters about the issues and challenge the candidates to move beyond their talking points and think on their feet. Under the current rules, these events have degenerated into non sequitur public speaking contests.

According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-profit that sponsors these events, "the public deserves to hear and see the candidates offer and defend their positions on the critical issues facing our country in the most thoughtful and in-depth manner that television time constraints will allow. Loosening the constraints within the ninety minutes debate will allow for more serious examination of complicated questions."

Epic fail.

After three debates and the pattern is clear. Loosening the constraints just made the problem worse than last season. The candidates don't argue about anything; they take turns rattling off talking points. They don't have to engage with each other, or even answer the questions. Since Sarah Palin blew off Gwen Ifill last week, the candidates know that they don't have to respect to the moderator, either. Last night we saw McCain insulting Tom Brokaw. Both candidates felt entitled to ignore the time limits. As Brokaw put it, "I'm just the hired help."

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