The so-called "debates" among the Democratic candidates in the primaries are not really debates -- and that is a real shame. In a real debate, opponents could question each other's statements -- and there have been a lot of questionable statements made already in this young political season.
Senator John Edwards, for example, has included among his rhetorical flourishes poor children going to bed hungry at night in America. In reality, obesity is even more common among low-income people than among high-income people.
Whether Senator Edwards doesn't know any better or doesn't care about the facts, his statements could have been challenged in a real debate -- or even in a no-holds-barred press conference. But, in the fashionable format of a pseudo-debate, where "going negative" is taboo, irresponsible demagoguery not only goes unchallenged but becomes the norm.
Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry has pictured the United States as lagging among industrial nations by not having government-provided medical care for everyone. In a real debate, someone could have pointed out that we also differ considerably from those other countries in how quickly you can get to see a doctor and in not having to wait months for surgery.
We also differ in having our much-denounced pharmaceutical industry produce a wholly disproportionate amount of the world's new life-saving medications. In a real debate, someone could point out the connection between incentives and results -- and how so-called "obscene profits" are preferable to something truly obscene: needless pain and suffering and preventable deaths.
When Senator Kerry argues for a higher minimum wage, someone in a real debate could point to evidence from around the world that higher minimum wages mean higher levels of unemployment. There is a reason why economists say that there is no free lunch, even though politicians get elected promising free lunches and calling them "rights."
So long as elections -- whether primary elections or general elections -- are just contests in rhetoric and personalities, the reality of what has actually happened under various plausible-sounding schemes gets lost in the shuffle. And so long as media pundits treat politics as just a contest among politicians, there is no need for them to let the voters know the facts.
Perhaps the most dangerous political spin that goes unchallenged in either the candidate "debates" or the media pundit discussions is the image that Senator Kerry is someone we could rely on when it comes to military defense, since he was a decorated war hero in Vietnam.