Is It a Debate or an Election?

To hear talking heads, we won’t be having a presidential election in November 2012, but more importantly a presidential debate or two in October. Evidently, it is debate performance that now sets the standard for candidates and nothing else.

With attention drawn to how our candidates perform in silly debates where answers must be given in a minute or two, governance and a personal record of achievement don’t matter. It’s can they appear clever, lie well, look noble and say what people want to hear that matters.

Mitt Romney wins – in their eyes – every debate. He’s smooth, polished and calm, but he doesn’t poll above 25% with the base. Cain got poll numbers up by parroting his 9-9-9 theme song, although he has never won an election for anything anywhere. Newt is the newest flavor and had years to practice the art. Of course he’s going to be good.

We’re on thin ice here. It’s a gladiator mentality more in line with the decaying Roman empire than a constitutional republic. Not one vote has been cast yet, but we’re supposed to believe it’s almost over. Tell that to Thomas Dewey.

We should not be looking at our candidates to see which one can hold his own against Obama in the two or three hour and a half debates. That assumes that he is a great orator and debater. I disagree. The man has to use a teleprompter to address a kindergarten class! His delivery is formulaic. At press conferences or formal speeches, his head goes back and forth like he’s watching a ping pong match. Speaking to campaign crowds he adopts that awful preacher tone and folksy talk. After four years he’s lost the attractive newness of his early candidacy and seems plodding and mundane. He has stumbled and fumbled as a candidate and as president at numerous press conferences.

So, no, he is not the sine qua non of orators.

Even if he were, what are we electing here? The president of a debate club or a commander in chief? Is that the only requirement it takes?

Shouldn’t we be looking at their positions on issues and how their previous actions match up with their current stated views? Shouldn’t we be wondering about character and how they have performed during crises? Should one moment of forgetting wipe out an entire career?

I don’t see how debating well is going to enact needed reforms in our economy. I don’t see how debating well will help a commander in chief make the tough decisions if Iran announces it has a nuke or China sends troops to Taiwan. I don’t see how debating well makes you able to hold fast to your principles when advisers try to tear them down. I don’t see how debating well gives you leverage in dealing with a difficult Congress.

In the past, debates have not been the final determining factor for primary winners. If they had, would we have had some of our outstanding presidents? Should the presidential election be based on a popularity contest? What’s next? Will we be voting from home on who gets knocked out of the competition each week?

Let’s hope some sanity prevails. Dump all but a few of the remaining debates and let the candidates go out and do what candidates have traditionally done – talk to the people, hold townhalls, campaign and let the people make their own conclusions.

Otherwise we are likely to have a series of very photogenic and smooth presidents – pleasant on the outside but empty within.

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