[guest post by Dana]
The idea is being promoted by members of the media and the political community. From Elizabeth Drew’s op-ed in the New York Times:
The debates have never made sense as a test for presidential leadership. In fact, one could argue that they reward precisely the opposite of what we want in a president. When we were serious about the presidency, we wanted intelligence, thoughtfulness, knowledge, empathy and, to be sure, likability. It should also go without saying, dignity.
Yet the debates play an outsize role in campaigns and weigh more heavily on the verdict than their true value deserves.
This, by the way, isn’t written out of any concern that Donald Trump will prevail over Joe Biden in the debates; Mr. Biden has done just fine in a long string of such contests. The point is that “winning” a debate, however assessed, should be irrelevant, as are the debates themselves.
Hm, if this call to end debates isn’t about concerns that Trump might possibly prevail over Biden during a debate, then why not make the case prior to the debate between Trump and Clinton, or Bush and Obama? I think that Ms. Drew’s timing is suspect:
Drew was a panelist for the first debate in the 1976 U.S. Presidential election, and moderated the debate between the Democratic candidates for the nomination in the 1984 race.
Which makes the question of ‘why now’ all the more relevant.
The New Republic suggests that political debates, like conventions, are relics of a bygone era:
This moment has forced us to reimagine much of our politics, and it’s perhaps the right time to consider whether these annual televised events have the same salience they had in the heyday of Jim Lehrer. The truth is that the debates have long since stopped serving the needs of voters and instead only exist to benefit television networks and cable news, in particular. Perhaps it’s time to consign them to the dustbin of history.
Every election cycle brings helpful souls out of the woodwork, pitching a new wave of ways to fix our broken presidential debates. There is a constant refrain: Dial down the pageantry and ratchet up the sobriety. It is a truth universally acknowledged that live audiences, more keen on hooting and hollering than listening, distract from the proceedings. This not only gives debates the atmosphere of an early-round NBA playoff game, but it also underlines the fact that what is happening is a spectacle, not anything of substance.
Whatever purpose these debates may have served at some point in the past has been overrun by media excess and politics’ cynical machinery. If they once functioned effectively as a showcase to contrast the essential differences between the candidates or to test their leadership and critical thinking skills, they now exist as a strange sort of political ritual that celebrates form over function and optics over authenticity. Really, they are just a thing we now do every election season, without fully understanding why we do it. What could we possibly learn from three debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, besides the fact that it’s time we did away with them entirely?
On a side note, Biden’s team is advising Biden not to participate in any scheduled debates, saying that it will just be an opportunity for a Trump publicity stunt:
Democratic strategists and supporters of Vice President Joe Biden are urging him not to debate President Donald Trump in the lead-up to Election Day, citing Trump’s publicity stunts and disregard for the rules in 2016…Former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart joined several Democratic Party strategists in bluntly advising Biden, “whatever you do, don’t debate Trump.” Speaking on CNN Saturday, Lockhart said Trump shouldn’t be given another platform which will enable him to “repeat lies,” which he said occurred in the 2016 debates against Hillary Clinton.
“We saw in the debates in 2016 Hillary Clinton showed a mastery of the issues, every point she made was more honest and bested Trump,” Lockhart told CNN. “But Trump came out of the debates doing better I think because he just kept repeating the same old lies: ‘we’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it,’ ‘we’re going to keep all those Mexican rapists out of the country,’ and ‘we’re going to make great trade deals’ — none of these things have come to pass.”
“Giving him that national forum to continue to spout — get him to 21,000 or 22,000 lies — I think just isn’t worth it for the Democrats or for Biden,” Lockhart continued
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign wants not just more debates but wants them to be scheduled sooner. Note: The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled four debates so far: three between Trump and Biden and one between Vice President Pence and whoever emerges as Biden’s running mate.
Although I watch the presidential debates, it is with the understanding that they are little more than well-rehearsed performative acts designed to seduce voters with a tightly-tailored snapshot of the candidate. The events rarely reveal anything we don’t already know about the candidate, especially in this election. However, because there are occasions when a well-timed bit of snark or a foot-in-mouth gaffe provides an unexpected laugh, I must insist that the two old, rich white clowns whose mental acuity is in question stand behind their respective podiums and debate one another (audience not required). I simply will not be denied the cheap thrills of *this* presidential debate. And how sad is that?
On a serious note, who do you think fares better in a debate between Biden and Trump, and why?