Do We Need More Debates?
It’s been nearly a month since the Republican candidates for President last met for a debate, that one was in Mesa, Arizona on the eve of the Michigan and Arizona primaries, which Mitt Romney went on to win. There was supposed to have one on March 5th, the eve of Super Tuesday, but it got cancelled when the candidates announced they would not show up. There’s also supposed to be a debate on Monday night in Oregon, an odd location given that the debate would take place on the eve of the Illinois Primary, but that too has been cancelled after Mitt Romney said he would not be participating. There are no more debates on the calendar, and none are likely to be scheduled. For those of us who have suffered through nearly a year of multi-candidate debates — the February 22nd debate was the 20th — this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Don’t we already know what these candidates are going to say? So what’s the reasons for holding more debates not withstanding the fact that the field is much smaller than it was only four months ago? It seems a near universal sentiment, but Dan Amira has a contrarian point of view:
Twenty debates is, actually, a sufficient number of debates. But it’s not the number of debates that’s the problem, it’s the pacing. There were six debates in January, but just one February, and now none in March or for the foreseeable future. Consequently, the candidates very thoroughly debated the issues that were popular in January and before, but not the ones that have arisen over the past six weeks.
For example, you may have noticed that there have been some major developments in Afghanistan since the last debate took place on February 22. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the candidates discuss those events, and be pressed — by one another and by the moderators, before a national TV audience — on their plans for the future of the war? Could anyone in America describe what those plans are right now?
Plus, you know, rising gas prices, John McCain’s proposal to bomb Syria, heightening tensions with Iran, Vladimir Putin’s re-election, the improving economy, “using birth control makes you a slut,” the Kardashian-Hamm feud — all of that.
So, don’t cheer the death of the debates. Ideally, there’d be one every couple of weeks until the race is truly over.
Amira does have a point here about the pacing of the debates. Did we really need, for example, to have so many between September and January when many people hadn’t even started paying attention to the race and when the stage was filled with gadfly candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann? I don’t really think we were particularly well served by having so many debates with eight or nine candidates on the stage. For one thing, there were simply too many candidates on the stage for the public to learn anything of substance about any one of them, which is why the focus of post-debate coverage was always about who made a gaffe or who get in the best zinger. For another, as I noted, many voters simply weren’t paying close attention to the election back then the way they are now. Wouldn’t it be better to have had more debates during the primary season, when the field had narrowed down to the real contender. I am reminded, for example, of the debates in 2008 between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, including a memorable one in Philadelphia on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary. Given the course this race has taken, wouldn’t the voters benefit from a Romney-Santorum one-on-one at some point.
Amira is also correct that the issues have changed over the past three or four months, to the extent were issues other than the economy are arguably driving the narrative in the Republican race right now. However, the candidates will not be heard on those issues because there are no more debates.
When this election cycle is over, both political parties need to take a good long look at the whole debate issue, perhaps try to figure out a schedule that better serves the candidates, and the voters.
H/T Andrew Sullivan