Let's Debate Debates

Democratic Presidential Primary Debates 2019

We're now getting full swing into the U.S. Presidential election season and, from one way of looking at it, the season has officially started with the first of Presidential Primary Debates. This round, leading up to the 2020 elections, we have 23 candidates (and maybe a few more on the super fringes) all competing for the top slot to take on President Trump. That so many that the first debate had to be broken into two nights with 10 candidates on stage each night (and four-plus more left in the wings unable to talk on stage). It's hard to get a bead on most of the candidates because, with ten people on stage for a two hour debate, each speaker is only going to get about ten minutes or so total during the night, to make a case for themselves.

Is this really the best way we could handle this? Many of these candidates are currently only polling around one percent or less and have absolutely no chance of becoming president. So that's the point of letting all these goofballs on stage? Well, for that answer we have to look back at the 2016 elections when it seemed like the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was in the bag for Hillary and, as per some accusations, did everything they could to try and get her elected. This, in turn, upset the Bernie Sanders supporters (Bernie Bros.), who then decided the best thing they could do was stay home on election night (or, instead of voting for the Democrat as they would have normally, cast a vote for a third party).

Now, I'm not going to try and make a case that those votes should have been Hillary's votes. She didn't run the best campaign and never managed to connect with voters (certainly not in the way Bernie did). So after clinching the Democratic nom, Hillary basically did everything she could to lose the election. The Bernie Bros., though, certainly didn't help matters much (nor did Bernie himself, dragging his feet before making a case for party unity). But because of that debacle, the Dems are now bending over backwards to make sure every candidate with even the slimmest of chances to win has a chance. This will, hopefully, please everyone somehow and, come the real election night, whoever is the Democratic nominee will then, hopefully, knock off Trump.

But, let's be honest, the debates don't really do much of anything, especially not a debate like this. Because there are so many people on stage, the format basically devolves into sound bites. Each person is going to have a few prepared bon mots that they'll spout off in the hopes that their remarks will be remembered by the public, helping them to surge a couple of points in the polls. For the leaders -- Warren and Sanders, Biden and Harris, plus Butgigiggigeigig (citation needed on spelling) -- their primary goal is to look good and, more important, better than all the low-polling contenders on the stage. It's a rehearsed, shallow performance all around that, for most people, won't move the needle much at all.

So, what's the point of them, really? Well, for starters, we don't have a better way to do this. The American public, sad as it is, doesn't have the stamina to have people talk policy at them for two hours. All they want are sound bites delivered by pretty people, all so that they can decide who they like best (for many, who they can drink a beer with), and then they'll vote in a popularity contest. It's as sad and simple as that.

Plus, let's be honest, the candidates don't want a real debate. Despite all the talk we see in political shows about how politicians are really just itching to have real debates, but the rules and the formats and "the other guy" won't let them (as evidenced on shows like The West Wing), politicians like the format we have now because it allows them to learn canned lines and snarky remarks without ever really having to say anything substantial. If they have to really talk, they might say something people don't like, or get torn apart by one of their contenders, so why say anything real at all?

If we want to fix this situation we have to first train the American public to actually care about politics. That really means that we have to scrub any hope of this getting fixed in the next couple of decades. Once people reach adulthood their interests are, for the most part, locked in. While it's possible to convert people to caring about a subject over time, it's much easier to get them when they're kids and teach them from an early age to care. That means we need to create school curriculums that really emphasize politics. Get kids interested in it via school projects and fun activities so that, when they get older, they care about thee subject and want to continuing learning about politics and participating in society.

As a bonus, if we get younger people to care about politics they might actually vote. The 18-30 crowd is the worst demographic when it comes to actually showing up and voting. If they can be made to care early on, though, then they're more likely to vote, to make their voice heard.

Once we have people engaged in politics, we can then have politicians actually talk about policy without the audience tuning out. If the viewers are engaged, the politicians will be forced to engage with them (because doing otherwise will hurt them in the polls). They the candidates will have to actually say something in debates like we're having now, and the whole process is more informative and useful. And then, maybe, we can get them to stop spouting canned lines and have real debates like everyone seems to want (but no one is willing to actually pursue).

But then, maybe we should take a long look at schools in general. They also need a lot off work...