What Do Debates Prove?

I love presidential debates. I really do. Primary debates are probably my favorites. While most people find them boring, I’m fascinated with the spectacle of a stage full of well-groomed candidates proudly promoting themselves and devaluing their opponents. The more candidates, the more entertaining. I’m impressed with participants’ ability to quickly reply to tough questions with snappy, stylistic answers, and I ponder the number of pain-staking hours it must have taken to prepare those candidates to answer those questions so smoothly.

After each debate, I enjoy listening to the analysis of political pundits who weigh in on all the rhetoric, offer their opinions of who came out on top, and predict how each candidate’s campaigns will proceed forward.

A couple days later, I surf on over to Real Clear Politics and check out the latest public opinion polls to see who benefited from their performance and who hurt themselves.

I suppose I’m an armchair political junkie.

Yet, there’s something about these debates that really bothers me… I mean, really bothers me: While I’m in the minority of people who finds them entertaining, I also believe I’m in a minority of people who thinks these debates are a really bad way of determining the best candidate for the most important office there is.

While it’s important for candidates to have a platform for distinguishing themselves from opponents, voicing their ideas, and stating their records, I can’t reconcile how these debates honestly determine who the best leader is.

If the best leader is defined by who is the most quick-witted, who is the most gifted speaker, and who looks the most presidential, then perhaps the debates do indeed serve a substantial purpose. But I fear there is a major cultural problem in our election process when we place so much importance on a candidate’s presentation.

To me, the presidency and leadership in general is much more about principles and decision-making than it is about personality and delivery. There have certainly been effective leaders throughout history that capitalized greatly from their personal charisma (Ronald Reagan comes immediately to mind), but I think we’re far too shallow when it comes to what we expect from our candidates these days. We reject candidates with records of achievement like Tim Pawlenty because he’s dull. We give Mike Huckabee a caucus win because he starred in a charming commercial with Chuck Norris. We elect a junior senator from Illinois with no leadership experience because he talks eloquently about hope and change.

Now, I’m not naive. I understand the concept of electability. Presentation is a key component of electability. The goal is to sell yourself to the American people, and style is an easier sale than substance. I just wish we could somehow bring ourselves to distinguish between the best leader and the most attractive candidate. They’re often quite different.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • Rtwing

    I especaily enjoyed the presidentail debate the other night. You see all the diferent views of the canidates, oh wait hmm lets see that was wwf. The conservitive party is beat Obama, and give big business and millionare tax breaks. Screw the country and the middle class, cut public education and privitize it so they can mmake a profit. Cut medicare and socail sercuty make the poor pay for their proverty. That will fix our countries woes. Oh yeh and lets create another crise and keep the masses confused and fighting one another that way we can fill our pockets. Sence I’m here Oreily should just shut the ____ up and kiss Murdocks ass.

  • John In MA

    At this stage, the debates prove that the media needs them worse than the electorate. A debate between limited, or the final choices means a great deal to voters. Given the number of candidates and how long before the first meaningful vote could be cast, it is simply a gotcha game. At best it is a free (inexpensive?) forum for the candidates to get their talking points public. At worst it is a forum for candidates to get their talking points public, without much real interaction.

    Maybe I’m just a cynic today.

  • robin in fl

    i think debates prove that some people are better at them then others are.some should fake a heart attack to get out of them.i see a couple of the debaters that really shot themself in the foot here in Fl at this last one…oh well,it happens sometimes i guess. :)

  • IndependentLasVegas

    All the candidates are Re-Treads stinky choices…musical chair politics..if you wait in line long enough the Republican GRAND POOPA grants you your turn..

    We need fresh blood.. Like a Trump maybe a Cristi.. PLEASE When Bachman is running 3rd in this group if that doesn’t tell you something nothing will..

  • G, Daylan

    “Appear as you may wish to be”
    — Niccolò Machiavelli

  • phlymgrym

    So true… but you can’t lead until you’re elected. This is where voters find views they agree/disagree with and see who can most effectively carry them against opposing agendas.
    I love the show too!

    • John Daly

      You’re right. I just find it disheartening when I see the media get hung-up on factors like candidates stumbling over their words or delivering a joke wrong. Oh well.