The first presidential debate is upon us and unless the two men exit an obsolete phone booth dressed in a funny looking costume with an “S” on their chests and a cape, there’s no way either man can match the hype that rocks along with these events. It has become a media event rather than a true debate. Both men are fighting for the 3 percent of the vote that Rasmussen Reports says, as of Tuesday, are undecided.
Unfortunately we can’t go back to the days of real debates -- those contests that lasted for hours and a real explanation of the issues facing the country were discussed in front of large crowds all straining to hear. Would America stand for Lincoln-Douglas type debates? Hardly.
First of all there were seven debates across Illinois with a population of 3.8 million, not just the four (one a vice presidential debate) for the entire country of 312 million. The rules were quite different from the truncated formats of TV debates. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, one candidate would speak for 60 minutes, then the opponent for 90 minutes followed by a 30 minute rejoinder by the first candidate. With our shortened attention spans there are few Americans who would stand for such a format. However in 1858, people did actually, in great numbers, stand to listen.
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of this election, but with every election hyperbole overtakes reality. As in Lincoln’s time there are great decisions that will need to be made in an atmosphere that is quite a bit more sane than when the nation was debating the future course of slavery -- an institution that led to the Civil War. Fortunately, no matter which man is deemed the winner of this debate and others to follow or eventually elected, our nation will not be torn asunder. Certainly we’ve grown since Lincoln’s day. And while we are a bitterly divided nation along partisan demarcation, few would take up arms to split the “more perfect union” the Founding Fathers created.
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-- The Editorial Board