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Real debates illuminate issues. Presidential ‘debates’ debase them

Real debates illuminate issues. Presidential ‘debates’ debase them

The quality of presidential campaign debates in the modern era, low to begin with, has sunk to rock-bottom. Some of that has to do with the declining moral caliber of the candidates themselves. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were statesmen of unimpeachable rectitude compared with integrity-challenged sleazoids like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

But the deeper problem is that presidential “debates” aren’t debates at all. They are designed to minimize any honest discussion of policy differences, and to maximize reliance on safe, scripted sound bites. With rules that allow only 60- or 90-second responses, shallowness is guaranteed. With candidates entitled to speak anytime someone mentions their name, personal attacks and counterattacks dominate the discussion. Instead of serving to advance the candidates’ ideas by allowing them to explain their differing approaches to important issues, the TV debates are crafted to prevent depth, nuance, and convincing argumentation.