Pres. ‘debates’ lack insight into politicians

by Brody Burns

Michele Bachmann speaks at CNN's Republican GOP presidential debate 2011 in New Hampshire.

It’s official — the bizarre, vain and superfluous presidential election season has officially kicked off. The most recent offering was delivered by CNN and its June 13 New Hampshire Republican Debate. With the actual election about 500 days away, CNN felt the responsibility to start vetting possible candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination. Thus the debate began; CNN found itself the fortunate recipient of six months’ worth of manufactured “newsworthy” programming, and the candidates had a venue to distribute dry and dreary dialogue.

The “debate” was held in the booming metropolis of Goffstown, N.H., which at roughly 18,000 residents, comes in at half the size of the population of the San Diego State student body. CNN’s intention to stage a public discourse involving potential candidates detailing their own personal solutions and plans for the country is noble. The execution, however, was a complete failure.

Though CNN claimed the debate was “unlike any other,” what CNN offered, and is all too common for any news outlet, was an orchestrated event. Each candidate fielded rehearsed questions and delivered standard answers, all while attempting to paint themselves as the combined offspring of George Washington and Ronald Reagan, born from the womb of a bald eagle atop Mount Rushmore. Fortunately, an extreme level of patriotism alone is not the only requirement for the job of U.S President.

But strangely, the “debate” actually involved little debate. Instead, a cycle of legitimate questions went unanswered, definitive solutions to real problems were not delivered and a general confusion remains about the true intentions of each candidate.

This debate system is broken and needs a drastic overhaul. The most frustrating aspect of the current execution of the standard debate format is that no valid answers are ever delivered to the topics in question. Once a question is posed to the candidate, one of 30 rehearsed answers is given, briefly making contact with the periphery of the topic in question. The problem is, there aren’t any methods of keeping candidates in line.

Moderators should be empowered to take away speaking privileges from those who refrain from answering the questions. Buzzers should go off when these candidates stray off topic, forcing them to return to the topic at hand. If we are to gain any insight into each candidate and elect the most capable one, then real answers are needed. Otherwise the entire ordeal is merely a two-hour campaign infomercial, filled with redundant clichés and cheesy slogans.

Another common problem with the debates is the overuse of attacking the incumbent. There is no doubt this is a political strategy. But it is a political strategy that, in all honesty, accomplishes nothing. If a candidate truly wants to present themselves as a dedicated and hardworking person, then supplying their own platform, and demonstrating the desire to impact the world are required.

A candidate’s entire platform cannot be based upon an ongoing negative editorial on the incumbent; at some point a plan must be presented.


You be the judge. View CNN’s recent debate.

No employer hires someone based upon how eloquently a job seeker can smear a current employee. Presidential elections should not solely be referendums on the failures of the previous administration. In these debates, candidates should not be allowed to cite the current president, or solicit applause from the audience for using statements such as “one-term president.” In not allowing these references, the responses would have to center around the topic in question.

Finally in the debate, let the candidates actually debate one another — a strange concept perhaps, but one central to real discussion. An interesting aspect of the primary season is the fact that all candidates believe themselves to be running against the incumbent in question. But there’s a stark reality all of the candidates seem to be ignoring — only one will actually run against the other party. This is a critical point in the road leading to the election. Differentiation needs to occur, beyond physical appearance and paid-for campaign advertisements. In a debate, let them debate.

The election season brings together a truly tragic menagerie of candidates. First there are the career politicians, who have accomplished next to nothing through decades of service in Washington, D.C. and will only satisfy their own ego when they finally ascend the Mount Everest of American politics. Then there are the budding political stars, whose ambition is only eclipsed by their own sense of entitlement and hatred for the establishment.

Finally, there are the oddball candidates who actually do present coherent ideas, but are labeled as lunatics because they seek to end the status quo. Impactful and effective debates could serve the purpose of exposing who the candidates really are, what they intend to do and what they stand for. Without any change the free campaign infomercials will remain, and the general public, especially anyone unfortunate enough to be caught watching these “debates,” will suffer.

— Brody Burns is seeking his MBA in business.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.