It’s debatable

Special to The TelegraphOctober 14, 2012 

So Obama lost the debate. What debate? I’ve debated and coached debaters; I’m not certain I saw a debate the other night. Debaters in academic contests appear at their venues never knowing which side of an issue they must defend; debaters must be ready to defend either. Most candidates appear to have a general idea about their position, and some actually have been seen on both sides of an issue. But I still don’t want to call this a debate. And I certainly do not want pundits telling me who won whatever they did that night.

I know cable news and most everyone else calls it a debate. I must too, until I find a different word.

Five minutes after the candidates left the stage, we were told who won this “debate.” Now hype is not normally associated with cable news (tongue planted firmly in cheek), but they do constantly compete for advertising bucks by trying to keep their lips moving 24 hours a day. The smallest items become breaking national news. The current gigantic issues of the day: who won the debate?

What will the loser do next time? Why did Obama continually look down? Why didn’t he draw his sword? I heard a cable channel promote its program before the Ryan/Biden debate as a pregame show. Who, I ask, will kick their words through the uprights? Maybe it should take a few days or a week for voters to decide the score. Extra points for what the candidates said after the debate.

There is not much emphasis on who said what and if it is true or not. Well, there was Big Bird’s demise. Romney said it and Obama made commercials making fun of Romney for saying it. Sadly, how often did we hear that Big Bird’s master, PBS, pleads public broadcasting confiscates one one-hundredth of one percent of the national budget, or that it is equal to only five days of defense spending?

How will killing off Big Bird reduce the national debt? Will it even help us balance the budget significantly? One would have thought Obama might tell us that, but if the candidates won’t tell us, who will? Is this really a campaign issue? It sure looked like it on television the other night -- and cable only tells us who won.

Cable, please tell us what is important about what the candidates said, and why. Did they adequately answer important questions? Ask them if they didn’t. Make these things important enough to repeat and repeat, not who won. Fact check for us. Interview the experts, not each other. Remind us the relevant statistics we need to consider. Who is telling us what they will do for the country, but not telling us how they will do it? Isn’t this more important to repeat than “who won.”

The repetitive reports on “winning” persuades people “who won” is most important. Really, is it? Once we were told Vice President Richard Nixon’s poor makeup gave the debate to John F. Kennedy. Who decided that, I wonder? What was said during that debate? Did nothing else matter except looks?

History books recorded Lincoln and Douglas traveling Illinois with their debates. I don’t remember the books telling us who won or lost the debates. Maybe that was not the issue.

The only winners and losers of a debate between candidates are the voters. Do they better understand the candidates’ differences? Did they tell voters the truth? Did candidates clarify their words later so voters understand? Can voters judge what the country will be like under each candidate? If it is important to know who “won” or “lost” the debate, it means the voters lose. How about we just call these fireside chats -- without the fire.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. He writes every other week for The Telegraph.

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