The (failed) Presidential Debate (10-3-2012) — PHOOEY!!!

Debate is a respected form of communication having a respected history in the United States, especially in academic institutions, in high schools, colleges and universities. It has been observed that such speech events as debate and declamation, being exhibited by private school students on the town square, caused other citizens, who did not have the means to pay for private schooling, to want those activities of the privileged children to be taught to their kids, too. The public school system may have been invented by parental demand, after having seen what kids in private schools could do. We want that, too, for our kids! Or so I have heard it said.

Debate is a standard form of communication with standard rules and procedures, performing the clear function of helping people gain closure on a subject that cannot be resolved by discussion. It is a communication FORM that has strict rules of procedure. Strict time limits for each side. No direct address, one side to the other, even in the rebuttal round. There is a “constructive” round of speeches and a “rebuttal” round of speeches. Why cannot “presidential debates” follow the same strict rules? As the “debate” was conducted last night, the form was trashed and showed no strict design. Those candidates for president are not privileged to trash the rules of procedure, JUST BECAUSE OF THE LEVEL OF ITS FOCUS, THE PRESIDENCY OF THE U.S. Those two people are servants of the people, who also must be respected, but not in any servile way. Putting the form of debate in the hands of a “journalist”?! How ignorant! The form makes demands that were ignored. The so-called “moderator” moderated NOTHING! Which anybody could plainly see. The form had no clear definition and no rigid control which affords each side “fairness” or “equality” of representation, a basic tenet of democracy.

There will be winners and losers, if the debate is judged in some way. But there has to be evidence that discussion, going before as an attempt to achieve consensus, has broken down. The proposition containing the crucial sticking point must be stated clearly as a PROPOSITION. “BE IT RESOLVED THAT …….. ” The statement would have offered one form of a solution that has been advanced by one or the other of the participants. They would then argue pro or con on the stated proposition. The idea is to highlight and sharpen the most crucial points dividing the two constituencies, not just anything or everything and the kitchen sink that divides opinion. Presidential debates should probably have several of those propositions properly worded and agreed upon by both camps, possibly at some time before the debate is scheduled. Should the debate be judged? Huh! No. Leave that up to the citizens to judge, eh?

Jim Lehrer could have had one proposition on the topic as stated by the Republican candidate and one statement as worded by the Democrat candidate. The statements could have been taken from the plans of the two sides on each issue, plans they have for guiding the policies of their presidency. Lehrer would have had to do more work in preparation, rather than what he did, throwing out a bone of a word or two and letting them fight over it.

The debates presidential did not do that. The two candidates for president had no point of departure. They were given a general topic and were expected to speak extemporaneously on that topic. A properly stated proposition sharpens the DIRECT CLASH, which is the defining feature of debate as a formal event. Form and Function of the debate presidential, on Wednesday, October 3, 2012, lacked the direct clash on the tough differences between the two candidates on specific propositions. They had to speak almost impromptu, having no expectation of how the topic will be phrased are even what the topic would be. An ugly flop. A stated proposition would have disciplined all of their responses and tested their ability to focus on certain, well defined problems. Lehrer left the two men wide open, to go anywhere and to get off topic. THEREFORE, the outcome of that debate hinged on many other factors than their stands on the issues. What are the specific proposals that have been made by each candidate that should be prioritized and argued?

The “moderator” moderated nothing. He was actually the chairman without a gavel, having little control, and one candidate, Romney, was allowed to become egregiously expansive beyond any time limit set by the chairman.

If there were actually millions of voters watching, a properly formed debate would have contributed immensely to a much, much clearer understanding of what the arguing was all about, as an educational experience that most of those millions of watchers could fully understand. I think that is crucial. A more didactic intent should have been built into the “debate”, and might have been a major consideration, taking very complex issues and making them more simply organized and presented in the matters of form. Two high powered speakers talking fast and furiously? Needs work!

At this very highest level of direct clash with words not weapons, the form should have been a model of best practice to showcase to the world how a very important democratic process is conducted in the nation that should be one of the model nations for democratic processes. Learning from the program I saw would convince no one anywhere in the world that the United States knows what debate essentially is. What Lehrer produced was a quibble, clarifying little.

This “debate” was a very poorly managed program. (D-) At the level of the office for the presidency, clarity from a direct clash on formally stated propositions should have been the prime consideration. I, or any university professor of debate, could have done it much, much, much, much better, and there are many of those experts around. What in the hell qualifies Jim Lehrer for that task. Absolutely nothing! He’s a very nice guy. But he does not qualify. Get somebody who knows DEBATE! Lehrer wasted a great opportunity and a lot of time. The candidates were not properly disciplined.

It is the grand fallacy prevailing in our society that journalists are prime candidates qualified for presiding over speech communication events like debates.

Just because they are a President and a candidate for the presidency DOES NOT PUT THEM ABOVE THE “LAWS” OF THE DEBATE FORM AND PROCEDURES! I have the feeling that they would concur. And would not want to be above those requirements.

For the next debates, get professional debate coaches from the university to moderate a well-defined procedure and bang a gavel to enforce rules. Have constructive speeches and rebuttal speeches. All that will probably do a better job of focusing on a direct clash on the most important issues in the performance as President of the United States. The people should expect NO LESS. Let the debate experts define the procdures and convey those procedures to each side with adequate time for the candidates to prepare to comply. FOR THE PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE NO LESS CONSIDERATION. THE PEOPLE RULE!


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