Last night, Democratic candidates for president gathered for the seventh debate. There are more debates in this election season than I'm pretty sure ever before -- and it's only (almost) November. Still, the debates don't really seem to be productive. Paul Waldman attacks Tim Russert as a moderator, and I think he's mainly right, but to me, the real problem is that as much as we like to think that debates are where candidates hash out issues and prove to us who is the better candidate, they are mainly just pieces of political theater.
People who already like a candidate won't be dissuaded from supporting him or her because of the debate. Everyone likes to use the infamous example of the Kennedy/Nixon debate in 1960. It is largely billed as the moment that Kennedy seized the election for Democrats. Modern debates, however, are lacking. We hear second-tier candidates attack the frontrunner. We hear Obama, perpetually in second place, repeat his mantra of opposing the war before it was cool, and we see the moderators trying to ask "gotcha" questions to win points for, well, themselves. Candidates still don't answer questions they don't want to answer, and seven debates -- or 700 debates -- won't change that.
On principle I'm excited to see that candidates are willing to get in the same room, but ultimately, debates are kinda boring and don't give us any new information. They don't really tell me which candidate will best advocate (instead, their records will) for me or which candidate will have most popular appeal (instead, polling will do that). In fact, they seem to be nothing but stage acts to give us horserace writers something to write about. I'm not sure what the solution is, any ideas folks?
-- Kay Steiger
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