'Great for democracy': Former adviser to Canadian premier explains why the US needs more debates

'Great for democracy': Former adviser to Canadian premier explains why the US needs more debates
Image via Creative Commons.

In some of the most high-profile races of the 2022 midterms — for example, Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race — the candidates have only agreed to one debate so far. Former banker David Knight Legg, who serviced as principal adviser to the premiere of Alberta, Canada, discusses this trend in an op-ed published by Politico on October 6. And Legg is highly critical of it, arguing that political candidates in the United States should be holding more debates — not fewer.

“A rare bipartisan consensus is emerging in America,” Legg explains. “Campaign managers from both sides of the aisle have decided that debates — the transparent, open exchange of ideas where candidates must answer questions and respond to their opponents in a live format — are simply too perilous. They must be curtailed or canceled altogether. This is a huge mistake.”

Legg goes on to cite some examples of major statewide races of 2022 that will have few, if any debates.

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“In Maryland and Arizona, Democratic candidates for governor are refusing to debate because they don’t want to give a platform to opposing views they deem extreme,” Legg observes. “In Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, dueling campaigns have grudgingly reduced debate to a single event — and then only if certain contested conditions can be met. In Nevada and Missouri, senators are now set to be elected this year without a single public debate. Gavin Newsom in California and Jim Pillen in Nebraska are refusing to debate even with opponents who don’t stand a chance of winning the governorships of their states.”

Legg continues, “So why are candidates really dodging debates? First, follow the money. In the financial arms race of modern campaigns, debates level the field, giving all candidates 90 minutes of free, unfiltered prime-time exposure…. Second, debates disrupt targeted messaging.”

A debate, Legg observes, “can wreck a candidate’s carefully constructed image.”

“The format doesn’t just highlight the range of issues, it also reveals character under pressure,” Legg argues. “Candidates have to express and defend their beliefs in a live, unscripted environment without the support of a teleprompter or staff. They can easily make mistakes, forget facts, go off-script, or react emotionally…. But what makes debates dangerous for campaigns are exactly what make them great for democracy.”

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