The presidential debates are proving to be almost useless insofar as telling us anything about the candidates. One reason for this is that the debates really aren’t debates at all, but arguments moderated by television personalities who often have their own political agendas. Sometimes these arguments turn into yelling matches, as they did Tuesday night, which makes for interesting television, but poor political discourse.
Actual debates begin with questions, or resolutions, on which the two participants each take a side. For example, you could have a question that reads something like this:
“Resolved, that the United States should do more to make it clear that it will defend Israel if Israel is attacked by any outside nation and asks for assistance.”
Mitt Romney might say something like: “I believe this should be unequivocal. Israel is our only firm ally in the Middle East. While we wish no other Middle Eastern country harm, and while we count many Middle Eastern countries as friends, we know threats to Israel come primarily from some of its neighbors who are forthright in counting themselves as dedicated to the destruction of Israel.”
President Obama might say something like this: “We are Israel’s natural ally in the Middle East, and I can’t see that changing, but we have to remember that other Middle Eastern nations, while they may dislike Israel, also have agendas, such as building their economies, in which we have many interests. Also, Israel has not been without blame in how it conducts its affairs with its neighbors, and in our own self-interest, we have to remember there are two sides to every story.”
That is how an actual debate is supposed to work. It may present two sides on only one question, or it may have several questions, the object being to show how the candidates may differ on the important questions of the day. Such classic debates might be useful. The way the candidate yell fests are conducted now remind one more of television talk shows than useful political discussion.
We are the poorer for it.