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Presidential Debates

Yelling, blaming, accusing, pointing fingers, not making eye contact, talking over one another. Is this the latest Real Housewives reunion, or a debate between the front runners to become our next president? It’s election season, meaning this year’s presidential candidates are some of the most talked about figures in the country. Americans are inundated with political commercials and countless headlines and news stories, all speculating about the candidates. Presidential debates allow the candidates to personally describe the ins and outs of their campaign platforms.

The opportunity to express their perspectives to all Americans at once is an excellent way to help indecisive people select their favorite candidate. But, the debates tend to be filled with agenda pushing rhetoric and immature behaviors. With my faith in our political system dwindling, I find it hard to appreciate any style of debate. However, I believe that, when it comes down to the choice between town hall or traditional style debates, traditional debates offer more positives than town hall debates.

Some of those benefits include a well informed moderator, the option for citizens to send in questions, and how candidates are forced to be succinct. It is important to recognize the role of a moderator in a traditional style debate. A moderator does not simply ask questions; a good moderator is also in charge of making sure the candidates answer them fully, respects the rules of the debate, and presses candidates on the positions to assure that they stand firm in them. After the first democratic debate of the season, the public felt that the clear winner of the debate was actually Anderson Cooper, the moderator (Horowitz Satlin, 2015).

Joe Concha, a popular political columnist, said that, “[Cooper] was impeccably prepared, wasn’t hesitant to ask follow-up questions when warranted and didn’t offer up one question — not one — that could be considered frivolous or fluffy” (2015). As a journalist, Cooper had a comprehensive understanding of each of the candidates’ platforms, as well as their past actions in their political careers. This complete picture allowed Cooper to prevent candidates from scooting past difficult questions by using rehearsed rhetoric.

His tenacious moderation allowed for those watching to critically analyze each candidate’s answers to assess not only which candidate’s perspectives aligned with their own, but also which candidate seemed most trustworthy and consistent in their views. An appealing quality of town hall debate formats is that average citizens can ask politicians their own questions. Citizen participation is inherently important in a democratic society, in which the government functions for the people, because the people are the voters. They want to know where the candidates stand on particular issues that are most important to them.

Thanks to society’s enormous technological strides, specifically in the field of communication, citizens are encouraged to send in questions to debates that they want answered. Then, with the help of the politically savvy moderator, voter’s questions are posed to candidates professionally and in a way that can really challenge the candidates. Additionally, sending in questions reaches a much larger audience compared to having people ask the questions in person. Those geographically excluded from asking their questions are now included in the mix, and enormous social media campaigns encourage citizens to submit questions.

The process is made quite easy for those with questions, as they are submitted simply by commenting on a Facebook post. Through the use of hashtags, “likes”, trending topics, and repeated questions, news sources, like CNN, can see which questions most people want to hear answered (Lyons, 2015). This accomplishes two goals; first, as many people as possible are getting their questions answered, and second, the very specific, personal questions that are often presented at town hall style debates are filtered out. Ultimately, citizens are given a voice in traditional debates, which is one of the largest benefits of town hall style debates.

For those who are generally less invested in politics, or for those who simply can’t stand them for too long, traditional style debates offer another appealing advantage: a time limit. Politicians need to know how to talk. Take, for example, Senator Storm Thurmond’s twenty-four hour and eighteen minute filibuster of the Civil Rights Act in 1957 in which the Senator read each state’s voting laws word for word and the Declaration of Independence, and even swore in a new Senator from Wisconsin, just to name a few of his tangents (Hickey, 2013).

I find myself among the many viewers who are thankful for the time limit that each candidate gets to answer questions and respond to others. It may seem unfair to cut them off, as they may not be able to fully describe their positions. However, given the vast multitude of important issues we face today, an imposed time limit allows for discussion of more points. Each voter has his or her own single most important issue, and the time limit helps ensure that viewers will not be robbed of the opportunity to hear their favorite candidate skirt around answering those hard hitting questions that get at the heart of that issue.

For example, in the first democratic debate in October of 2015, candidates were given one minute to answer a question, and thirty seconds to respond to another candidate (Marcin, 2015). An assertive, knowledgable moderator, armed with the questions that citizens submit, and with the help of rather brief time limits can ensure the American public that candidates will be sufficiently questioned about their beliefs to help voters make their decision. We are in the midst of an incredibly challenging time period.

Threats of terrorism, climate change, economic struggles, and more all stack up to ensure a difficult presidency for whomever is elected. If given the choice to watch candidates battle it out in a town hall or traditional style debate, I wouldn’t be too inclined to watch either. However, I believe that the benefits of the traditional format offers far more advantageous compared to the town hall style. Well informed moderators help to truly challenge the candidates. Opportunities for citizens to submit questions bring the benefits of town hall debates to traditional ones.

Imposed time limits make sure that candidates are concise and that a wide range of topics can be covered. Electing a president is not a task to be taken lightly. Voters want to be sure that their next leader is one who stands for the same things as they do. Debates give voters the opportunity to analyze just that. While the eye rolling and scoffing and slander may make viewers feel as though they’re watching reality T. V. and not our future Commander and Chief, traditional style debates are an integral part of elections.

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