Presidential debates garnering too much influence

Matt Poe

Today’s politicians know how to work the camera. Much like a model walking down the runway at The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the camera is their best friend and weapon of choice, with airtime and word count battled for like oxygen. If the Donald doesn’t get his talking points, the Donald’s head will surely explode in front of millions of viewers.

It’s easy to joke about, but the harsh truth is that presidential debates have become nothing short of a reality show, filled to the brim with soundbites and clips of candidates making erroneous claims against one another or against members of the opposing party.  

Instead of using the debates as a major platform to discuss policies and ideas, candidates largely turn the limelight of the debates into a “he said, she said.” This strategy is hardly anything new, and forgive me if I sound like an old man who once adjusted rabbit ear TV antennas to watch the JFK versus Richard Nixon debates. The debates are, quite frankly, a charade that has garnered too much influence on voters and viewers. One of these days, I’ll write a positive politics column. But not today. Hear me out.

Last night’s Democratic town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, wasn’t much of a debate at all. It had nothing to do with one candidate dominating the discussion, but rather the format it was presented. Instead of the traditional format consisting of all the candidates side-by-side on stage spewing whatever verbal attack they can muster up, CNN moderator Chris Cuomo interviewed the candidates while the candidates also took questions from voters.

It was a mostly civil affair compared to the full-blown verbal warfare we’ve come to expect from the recent debates. There was still the usual attack or hostile claim, but I personally found it to be a nice change of pace. Therein, lies my issue with the debate process: issues and policies have taken a back seat while ugly and prolonged arguing has taken the steering wheel and steered our attention to something that shouldn’t be the focal point of the election race. So with something much more civil, like last night’s town hall “debate,” we’re left applauding it. Instead of a normality, it’s become foreign.  

Much of the coverage following debates isn’t about which candidate’s policies and ideas can help mold them into the next president. Rather, it is about who “won” the debate, as if it is a football game with a clear cut winner at the end. Much of CNN’s post-debate coverage consisted of a panel of talking heads ooh-ing and awe-ing over which candidate was the proven fighter or stood their ground when confronted. For anyone who didn’t have a chance to watch the debate and tuned into the post-coverage, you would think you stumbled upon a bunch of cheerleaders parading the star quarterback.

Maybe I’m in the minority here. Maybe this is what we as a society have come to want from our politics: talking heads criticizing one another with more talking heads debating the aftermath of who won and lost.

People, myself included, need to be more informed on what a candidate’s views are on foreign policy, and how we can fix healthcare issues and propose solutions to alternative energy. But instead, we’re left with none other than mindless accusations and cravings to raise one’s standing in the polls. We know who “won” the debate, but we don’t know critical policies. Take the debates with a grain of salt and do your own research. Why? Because putting too much faith in the debates is convenient for the politicians and misconstrues the rest of us from what is really being said.     

Contact Matt Poe at [email protected].