Paul Greenberg

4. Don’t think you have to answer the question. Rise above it. The way a question is framed can put you in a defensive crouch. Don’t play that game. Direct your answers to the voters; they’re the ones you’re accountable to — not the moderator and certainly not your opponent. (“I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people….”)

5. Talk to the future, to the next generation. Your greater object isn’t to win the debate, or even the election. There will be other debates, other elections. A great debate is about winning the future. A great debater doesn’t argue facts; we have fact-checkers for that. A great debater argues great ideas. See Lincoln, A., and his debates across the Illinois prairie with the senator who was supposed to be the greatest orator in the country. Does anyone remember anything Stephen A. Douglas said on those occasions? Can anyone forget that a house divided against itself cannot stand? Mr. Lincoln, let it be noted, lost that election to the U.S. Senate; he won only the future.

One can judge a political debate in any number of ways. A hair-splitting rhetorician can walk away from a debate convinced he won every exchange when he’s actually lost the whole debate. Judging by these five rules, there’s no doubt in my mind who won the vice presidential debate. Nor about which which candidate the American people tuned in to hear, and which one caught and held our attention. You betcha.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.