Debate Season Begins
In 1992, Dan Quayle debated Al Gore in a Vice Presidential Debate that everyone assumed would end badly for Quayle – after all, Gore was the competent, brainy one and Dan Quayle – well, Dan Quayle had trouble spelling (Admiral Stockdale was there as well, but nobody much cared at that point). One of my professors, known by us students for his Republican-friendly views, cautioned us during a class discussion that Quayle would do better than people thought. I was skeptical – but he was right. The Bush-Quayle team had done such a good job at managing the “expectations game” that achieving what was widely considered a “draw” in the debate felt like a resounding victory for Quayle at the time (not that, like any other Vice Presidential debates, it made much of a difference in the election’s outcome).
Similarly, although Gore rolled out fact after fact in his 2000 Presidential debate against a George W. Bush whose most memorable replies were in calling Gore’s mound-of-statistics “fuzzy math,” George W. Bush was perceived as coming out ahead. After ninety minutes of policy discussion, people most remembered Al Gore’s sighs.
I guess the takeaways are that it’s far from a forgone conclusion that intelligent answers to substantial debate questions will translate into subsequently better poll numbers and that Trump will quite possibly be seen as a winner if he doesn’t completely meltdown on the stage. Clinton supporters who think that the comparison of her thoughtful answers to Trump’s bombast and attempts to change-the-subject-to-something-he’s-prepared will spark an epiphany among those who would otherwise support Trump are likely to be disappointed.
Still, whoever is perceived as the winner or loser, the debate will be I matter of historical record (sort of like the Lincoln-Douglas debates . . . just kidding but he’s not). If many Americans want simply to vote for the person to whom they find more relatable – that’s fine – but I’d like to see substantive views of the candidates side-by-side. Politics might be fun, but it’s policies that will matter in our lives in the coming years. At least those of us who care more about the latter than the former should have a chance to hear what might be or think back later about what could have been.
So, here’s hoping that the Republican moderator, Lester Holt (who I just had an opportunity to see live 1 ½ weeks ago), gets to the meaningful policy questions sooner rather than later. The somewhat vague topics that will guide the selection of questions will be “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.”
There are some really good lists of questions for this and future debates found here and here. I doubt I could do any better. At the very least, I hope questions about the Clinton and Trump Foundations (everyone has pretty much decided on their assessment of each candidate’s character already) do not get in the way of questions designed to see if Trump will go on the record about the “hoax” of global climate change or offer concrete wisdom on how he will deal with ISIS – subjects that really will influence our future lives.
Unfortunately, Tuesday morning will undoubtedly be filled with clips of the pre-prepared zingers and analysis of how the candidates comported themselves rather than any contrast of the substance of their arguments. Nevertheless, I’m happy that the almost 100 million Americans expected to tune in for themselves will at least get an opportunity to focus upon what they want to focus upon in selecting a future leader. As Americans, we are the only ones with a direct say in an election that will affect not just ourselves, but the other 95% of the world. It’s a heavy collective responsibility.