Tonawanda News

Columns

September 28, 2012

Debate? You can't handle debate

Tonawanda News — By this time next week it may all be over. Whatever it is, it may be over. 

The NFL referees’ lockout, the Major League Baseball pennant races, the fate of several network television shows, the hockey lockout, the choices for elections. This time next week we’ll see the fallout from the first so-called debate. (Ask anyone who did debate in high school or college. Resolution. Affirmative, negative. Cross-examination, rebuttal. That’s debate, the way the NFL differs from kids playing football in the street. These television presentations involving political candidates are more like press conferences or interviews: shout the question, get a response of sorts.)

I tend not to get misty-eyed when I think of my high school days, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, except for a few hot teachers and my ability to dismantle opponents in debate (my various nemeses learned quickly I could convince anyone I’m right about anything. Their solution: stop listening to me), but I look forward to Mr. President and Mr. Governor sorta squaring off to bat things around. Regrettably neither candidate goes into these things with the attitude of finishing the other off. The rules are intentionally skewed so it doesn’t happen.

Mr. Obama, what do you think? Mr. Romney, same question. Expect the vague “make this country great again” answers.

Interrogators lob in softball questions, with little time for follow-up exposition. What you’ll learn, if anything, is which candidate handles televised pressure the best (and remember, one’s been commander-in-chief for four years). Little else.

Candidates do not even enter a debate unless they and their handlers can control it. There will be no hard-left or hard-right questioners on the panel of experts, for example. You think Mike Wallace was an inquisitor? Imagine an Obama-Romney debate with Rachel Maddow and William Kristol as panelists, then get set to watch candidates at their stumbling, panicking worst. 

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