Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Two-party debate: An exercise in futility – Los Angeles Loyolan.
By all accounts, Tuesday night’s second U.S. presidential debate was an exciting affair. President Barack Obama showed he had some serious fight left in him. Republican candidate Mitt Romney didn’t back down. Moderator and CNN journalist Candy Crowley did what so many of us have been dying to do and fact-checked Romney on air. Compared to Romney’s dull-as-dirt total knockout in the first debate, this one was absolutely fascinating.
So why am I so unsatisfied?
From an unbiased standpoint, the debate was grand political theatre; at points, it honestly looked like the two candidates were a moment away from coming to blows. However, I’m not an unbiased observer. As an American citizen, a college student who hopes to get a job someday and a gay man who hopes to get married someday, I’m very much biased towards specific agendas, and I care about who wins this election. From that perspective, all the debates have been a bunch of, to borrow a phrase from Vice President Joe Biden, “malarkey.”
This isn’t entirely the fault of the candidates, though. It’s more the fault of the two-party debate format that makes every political battle “he said, he said.” Except for the rare moments when a moderator intervenes (Crowley’s aforementioned fact-check, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz’ relatively aggressive moderation in the Vice Presidential Debate), most of the time, viewers are left to infer whether one candidate or the other is being honest. (That is, of course, something that didn’t used to be an issue when lying in a debate wasn’t so rampant and unapologetic, as Romney has proven to be so far. So remember, it’s still kind of the candidates’ fault.)
While I don’t like the two-party format, I don’t particularly like bringing in a third-party candidate either. What’s so theoretically great about a two-party system is that the extremes are represented, and great debate can spring from the differences. Obviously, that hasn’t happened so far. Like I said, theoretically.
What the debates need is a real-time, fact-checking system. Again, theoretically, the moderator should do this, but between Jim Lehrer’s poor performance as moderator in the first debate and the ridiculous rules the campaigns unsuccessfully tried to enforce on Crowley in the second, the moderator is clearly not serving this function. Under pressure of being fact-checked, the candidates would have to provide real answers, hopefully creating some real discussion and showing the differences in their platforms. In that model, undecided voters could make an informed decision about how to vote. Additionally, policy wonks would be able to hear a real discussion about issues. Imagine that.
While political theatre is great, ultimately it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and I, for one, think the very biased observers – the American people – deserve a true debate.
Forgive me if I’m not holding out too much hope, though.