I noticed a headline on the Drudge Report today that said the presidential debate audience is fading away. I’m not surprised. I have not watched a single debate so far, and I don’t think this will change as we get closer to the November 2008 elections. My apathy doesn’t come from a general disinterest in politics, but from the lack of debate in the debates. The questions are mostly insipid, and the 30-90 seconds allotted each person for a response gives us meaningless sound bites and mumbles.
When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated during 1858, they met seven times and spoke for three hours each. The first speaker spoke for 60 minutes, the other spoke for 90 minutes, and the first then finished up with a final 30-minute address, with Douglas and Lincoln alternating for the first speaker slot. While they were speaking, reporters transcribed the addresses in full and published them in newspapers for people to read. These debates weren’t even for the presidency — they were for a Senate seat. When I look at the debates between Douglas and Lincoln, I have to laugh at what passes for a “debate” nowadays.
I can’t help but believe that our society just doesn’t have the patience for long debates anymore, based on the crappy formats we have now. How can politicians fully discuss a complex issue or stance when there are only seconds to debate it? The simple answer is that they can’t. We end up with short sound bites, sniping remarks, and politicians ignoring the question they were asked in favor of answering another question of their own choosing.
I also can’t get all that excited about a presidential election that is still more than a year away, especially when none of the current presidential hopefuls excite me much. Is it any wonder that people don’t care much about meaningless debates between third- and fourth-string candidates so early in an election cycle?