Call it a verbal tryst, a political sparring match or even a fight, but don't call it a debate. What passes for a debate these days on the national political scene is a disgrace. Two people get up in front of a national audience and use bits and pieces of committee-crafted phrases to see who can be the bigger bully without crossing some imaginary line.
I wish I knew what that line is because I was convinced that during the first presidential debate that Mitt Romney acted more like a headstrong bully than a dignified man who was trying to make a case that he has what it takes to be President of the United States. At the end of the night I felt that Obama had maintained his cool and that he was not forced to operate on Romney's level.
Much to my surprise, the rest of the world came to the conclusion that Romney had "won" the debate because he was forceful in getting his points across and because Obama did not challenge him enough and that he was not aggressive enough. A few days later Obama and his team even caved in to the bullies and admitted they could have done a "better" job, meaning they should have been more aggressive.
Things got worse on the stage of the Vice Presidential so-called debate. Biden felt that he had to come out swinging to make up for Obama's "poor showing". He butted in, made a lot of faces and was generally acting like a meth-head who had just taken a big hit.
Ryan played it a little cooler,
It would be incredible if somehow the American people made it clear that they wanted politicians to have a real debate and not a fight. What is a real debate? My idea of a debate is when two people act extremely polite to each other, never interrupt and follow a set of rules so that the audience can have a better understanding of issues.
What happened to the notion that the American people should have the best possible understanding of where the candidates stand on issues, that voters should be well-informed when they cast their ballot? There are plenty of people to blame for the dumbing down of American politics, from the mainstream media to the Supreme Court.
Instead of giving the voters insight into a candidate's stand on issues, all we hear are calculated phrases and attempts at memorable zingers so that the headlines of the next hour or day can be manipulated.
Thankfully, even during those disgraceful sparring matches a few bits and pieces of political ideology do come through. We can tell the major differences between the candidates and we can still get a sense of some of their ideas on the important topics of the day.
Yet, there are still too many unanswered questions when candidates do not answer the question thrown at them and instead turn everything around so that they can talk about the prepared points that their team told them they must make.
"Mr. Romney, please tell the American people how you would decrease the national debt." That is a very good question but I do have to tell you that the sky is falling and Chicken Little is on the run. Our current President made the sky fall."
"Mr. Obama, please tell the American people how you would decrease the national debt." When I took office we had a big mess. The Republicans are to blame, but I can assure you that Chicken Little will be safe for generations. And so it goes.
Imagine if the moderator of last night's debate was a high school debate team coach instead of CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley and that the candidates had to follow debate team protocol. We might have had a chance to actually learn something valuable before we vote.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.