Opinion: Too much of a bad thing

Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him

at [email protected].

We’re currently in a 26-day stretch in which no Republican Party presidential debates occur. CNN hosted the most recent on Jan. 26 and will televise the next on Feb. 22.

It’s an unusual breather for the candidates; debate season hasn’t had such a drought since August.

Through 19 debates so far, I haven’t tuned into any of them. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of clips and soundbites­­­­—avoiding all debate coverage would be difficult—but I’ve made a conscious effort to not watch them live, and for what I consider a worthy reason.

It seems excessive, does it not? How many debates are necessary before the candidates have established every political position they could possibly have? Then again, perhaps that will never happen, since often politicians gladly change their stances whenever it’s beneficial.

But when the primaries stretch on for as long as they have, what truly worthwhile material can the debates provide?

Newt Gingrich disputed former wife Marianne’s allegation that he suggested having an open marriage. Ron Paul denied accusations that he wrote racist remarks in his think-tank’s newsletter.

Mitt Romney’s opponents took him to task for saying “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Rick Santorum controversially chided the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” by calling the decision “social experimentation.”

That seems to be each debate in a nutshell: moderators ask candidates about the skeletons in their closet, candidates give mostly dishonest responses and resume launching the same old attacks on their opponents, rinse and repeat.

Wikipedia says the 2008 Republican primaries had held 20 debates before the end of January, one more than the current primaries. But those numbers are slightly misleading.

Included in the 2008 primaries were four debates that didn’t air on a major network or cable channel and therefore received little coverage in the big networks’ reporting. This time around, a situation like that has occurred just once.

So if we only count the highly-covered debates, the ratio changes: 16 in 2008 to 18 in 2012. The difference would be even higher, but last summer the networks scrapped a handful of early debates because no one had announced their candidacy yet (and don’t forget the Donald Trump debate that never happened).

This increase in number of debates isn’t because of their importance—if most of the memorable quotes are the gaffes, what’s the point?­—but because the networks have an insatiable appetite for easy ratings.

Why not make the primary debates more like the general election debates? (Democratic and Republican nominees debate each other only three times.)

This is the same procedure big networks have followed with college football bowl games. As recently as 2005, just 28 bowl games existed, with only the best teams assured a berth. By 2010, the number ballooned to 35, and now many of them feature teams that don’t have a winning record.

Sometimes the phrase “too much of a good thing is wonderful” can indeed be true, but these constant debates are most certainly not a good thing. Instead, let’s try a “less is more” approach.