When students enroll in their first high school debate class, they learn to create a flow chart. In the first column they list the arguments made by the first affirmative speaker. In the next column they place side-by-side the first negative speaker’s response to those arguments. An affirmative rebuttal speaker’s remarks will fill column three and the negative rejoinder will fill column four.
With the arguments laid out in this way, you could pick any opening argument and go across the page to see how the negative responded, how the affirmative rejoined, how the negative came back, etc.
This is how any rational person would seek to understand a debate. It’s how a Martian who didn’t know anything about the topic would try to understand a debate.
But suppose that the high school student, or the Martian, applied that same technique to the recent Democratic and Republican conventions. What would the flow chart look like?
It wouldn’t be a flow chart at all.
The reason? Speakers at the two conventions didn’t bother to respond to the arguments made by their opponents. There was no clash of ideas because the two parties didn’t talk about the same subjects. This lack of engagement won’t stop now that the conventions are over. It will continue right on through the entire election.
Since Donald Trump is president, let’s take a few of his policy positions and see if you agree with me.
Over and over, Trump has maintained that every major city where there has been police misconduct, visible inequality, and rioting and looting is a city run by Democrats. Republicans, he says, have virtually no role in it.
By the way, I agree with Trump. The reason things are so bad, however, is not because the politicians are Democrats. The reason is that they are “liberal.” But forget what I think. What does Joe Biden think?
Does he think Democrats running the cities are doing a good job? A bad job? Would the cities be better run by a Republican mayor like Rudy Giuliani? Answer: Joe Biden never talks about how cities are run.
How about school choice? It’s a major idea often mentioned by the president.
Does Joe Biden think parents should accept whatever facility the school board assigns their child to – no matter how bad? Does he think that school choice should be reserved for people who can afford expensive homes or the tuition at exclusive private schools? Answer: Joe Biden never talks about school choice.
Abortion is another topic Trump brings up with some regularity. Democrats, he says, believe in abortion right up to the moment of birth. Sometimes he accuses Democrats of favoring abortion even after birth. Is he right?
I bet you have no earthly idea what Joe Biden’s position is on this subject. And if he has his way, you never will.
All this is very logical. If your opponent takes a popular position and you are on the other side because you need the support of a special interest, anything you say is likely to lose votes. So, the best strategy is to say nothing.
Donald Trump faces the same dilemma. On such subjects as banning assault weapons or tax breaks for real estate or the size of the federal debt, Trump’s best strategy is no comment at all. But it’s a bigger problem for Democrats because they have so many more special interests to placate.
The radical left, of course, wants none of this. They have been trying to force Biden to take hard positions on controversial issues from day one. But on topics ranging from fracking to defunding the police and much more, Biden keeps reverting to a no-position or vague-position stance. That’s almost a daily occurrence.
Consider immigration -- a signature Trump issue. Does Joe Biden think anyone should be able to cross our borders – legal or illegal? Or should we use walls, drones, guns and electric shocks to stop them? If we catch an illegal alien, should we send him home? Or should we give him free health care and other public benefits? Should sanctuary cities be able to have their own immigration policies, like a foreign country? Should they be able to create a safe haven for vicious criminals?
If you know how Biden would answer these questions, you are better informed than I am.
Donald Trump says every trade deal we’ve made in recent memory was a bad deal. In the past, Biden supported all those agreements. But have you heard him defend any of them lately? We know what Trump thinks about trade – whether we agree or disagree. But I bet you don’t know what Biden thinks.
Foreign wars? Trump wants to end them. How about Biden? Is there a war he wants to continue? Is there one he would like to start? Is there some website where you can learn the answer to these questions? I don’t think so.
And here is one more Trump talking point. Was sending $400 million in cash to Iran in the middle of the night in an unmarked airplane a good idea? Was the whole thing totally illegal? If he had to do it over again, would Biden do anything differently? I bet you won’t find answers to those questions at the Biden-for-President website, either.
Here is something you never learned in civics class. If he has his way, Biden will go through the entire election without ever revealing what his position is on any of the major issues that propel the Trump campaign. This is how modern democracies work.
A televised debate could potentially undermine that strategy. Unfortunately, debate moderators in the past let the candidates wander off in any direction they chose, no matter what question was asked.
If there were a real presidential debate, with moderators holding the candidates’ feet to the fire, we might actually learn what each candidate really thinks about his opponent’s issues.
Don’t hold your breath.