Ken Connor

George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. Franklin Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan. Who among these men would answer, with a straight face, a question posed by a snowman?

One wonders about the seriousness of a nation that considers the YouTube debate hosted by CNN a success and a triumph. Countless commentators have fawned over how refreshing it was to replace those stuffy old reporters with videos of real people with real concerns. Michael Finnegan and Matea Gold of the LA Times gushed, "Free-wheeling video questions from ordinary citizens put a fresh spark into the staid ritual of presidential debates this week, with everything from a talking snowman to a guy cradling a rifle he called 'my baby'." The reporters then said the debate was more like American Idol than Meet the Press. The implication was that this is a good thing.

The entertainment value of the format for the debate received high praise. A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial praised the debate, saying, "...a debate is entertaining, more people will watch—and that's a good thing."

It is certainly a good thing for American citizens to take an interest in the political process, and many were celebrating because they were more entertained than usual. A Boston Globe editorial declared that the old way of debating was a "recipe for dull television." The new way: "engaging" and "lively"! But is new always good? Do we undermine serious discourse when the emphasis is on entertainment? When questions are posed by animated snowmen, men holding automatic weapons, and lesbian couples playing "gotcha" do we somehow trivialize the process and, perhaps, the of fice of President itself?

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.