Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Debating Debates

Personally, I am sick of debates.

Debates mean nothing. They are highly artificial and stylized dog and pony shows that pass for real and reasoned argument. They pander to our love of competition and the media's desire for a quick, witty, or dumb sound bite.

Debates emphasize shallowness over substance. How does a person quickly and smartly answer a question? Does this really have anything to do with a man or woman's capacity for leadership? Does it tell us anything about whether or not these people can make sound decisions at crucial times? No. So why even watch them? Why even hold them?

A better format would be to put the candidates into enclosed rooms and hand them questions. By themselves, with no assistance from staff, they should formulate their answers. Then the debate should be their defense of, and questions about, the answers from the other candidates. This encourages judgment and reason over glibness and might even give us some real insight into their principles and ideas.

Of course there will be fewer gaffes, fewer mistakes, and less overall silliness. Or maybe more, actually, because the candidates have to answer on their own without help. In any event, they would be a vast improvement over what we do now.

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