The upcoming Republican primaries and the numerous contenders for the presidential nomination have been a hot topic in recent media coverage. Indeed popular demand for information about the candidates has prompted numerous book publications, interviews, and debates. Unfortunately, the political shenanigans seen all too often in DC have permeated the information broadcasted to the American public. This is particularly true when it comes to the numerous televised primary debates that have occurred, which have been plagued by a tone of belligerency and immaturity. The American desire for entertainment, instant-gratification, and drama has infiltrated the realm of political discourse, and the effect has been decidedly undesirable.
The deficiencies in the recent Republican debates are not solely the fault of Republicans. The very format of the debates eliminates the possibility of a serious discussion of relevant issues. The televised debates seen this year generally provide candidates with only one minute to respond to questions and an occasional 30 second rebuttal. These time constraints, while they make the debates snappy and fast-paced, are not conducive to substantive discussion of the questions posed. In addition, the extremely short amount of time makes it nearly impossible for candidates to avoid speaking past the time limit, causing the debates to be disorganized and confusing.
In addition to the time constraints, there is an imbalance in questions allotted to the various candidates, making these debates inherently unfair for candidates who are less famous or “mainstream.” In almost any Republican debate, the vast majority of questions are directed at Michelle Bachman, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, leaving Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and others in “Siberia.” Yet these candidates’ ideas are just as valid, if not more valid, than the “mainstream” candidates, and it shouldn’t be assumed that these candidates will be unable to win nomination, especially in today’s more radicalized conservative climate.
Furthermore, the recent primary debates have lost legitimacy thanks to the behavior of the audiences that attend these events. Despite rebuffs from the moderators, audience members have cheered, whistled, booed, and yelled comments at various points in the debates. This behavior is unruly, distracting, often inappropriate, and uses up the candidates’ speaking time. Perhaps the most offensive instance of this occurred when audiences booed a soldier who is currently serving in Iraq who sent the candidates a video question about his difficulties being gay in the military. The audiences at these events seem to be extremely conservative, petty, and unable to identify distinguish between empty rhetoric and substantive discussion. At this rate it wouldn’t be surprising if debate attendees are soon given complimentary tomatoes to launch at the candidates they dislike.
Unfortunately, the circumstances in which these debates occur are in no way improved by the behavior of the Republican candidates. The presidential hopefuls have stooped to incredibly low levels in these debates, frequently engaging in personal attacks against each other. This has been an outstanding problem between candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Rick Perry has attacked Mitt Romney both for his religion and his alleged hiring of illegal immigrants to care for his lawn. These ad hominem fallacies have riddled the debates, often causing two candidates to simply resort to an onstage yelling match. Mitt Romney yelling “I’m speaking! I’m speaking!” is hardly substantive debate of the issues plaguing Americans today.
Republican hopefuls argue not just with each other, but also with the moderators of their debates. They consistently go over time, yelling out sentences despite the consistent pleas of the moderators to adhere to timing rules, and sometimes even argue with the moderators about how much time they should have or how much time they have left. In addition candidates often fail to answer the questions posed to them by the moderators, instead returning to a previous issue. Rick Perry is perhaps the most notorious in this situation, thanks to his recent statement to Fox News moderators that he “will answer whatever question he wants to answer.” This disrespect for the authority of the moderator is an unprofessional habit that these candidates should have discarded during their first lessons in public speaking.
Unfortunately, however, this kind of behavior is what sells. The American people are more likely to watch a debate if it contains drama, fighting, and rhetoric. The desire for instant gratification has permeated even the political world, and rather than take the time to listen to candidates’ proposals, Americans want only two or three sentences from their possible future president. The American political climate must undergo a fundamental change before these debates can be transformed into serious, relevant, and helpful events.