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Presidential Debates Are Not Serious

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The presidential debates are looking more and more like symptoms of the problems we’ve got than part of the process of solving them.

Maximum style, minimum substance. Focus on sizzle, forget about the steak.


These events are supposed to be about quality information, raising the bar, and producing a thoughtful, informed electorate. But they are being produced to provide entertainment, and we are barely getting that.

Technology doesn’t take the place of substance. Youtube and real time polling are not substitutes for thoughtful, provocative questioning.

Can it really be that Rick Perry, in this third debate in which he has appeared, was not pushed, after all the heat being thrown out on Social Security, on how specifically how he would reform it?

Can it be, as health care expert after health care expert has laid out the long list of failures of Romneycare in Massachusetts, and its unquestionable similarities to Obamacare, that Mitt Romney was not grilled thoroughly on this and called on his sidestepping and denials?

Can it be that, on a day where the stock market in our country dropped 3 ½ percent and in China 5 percent, that candidates were not asked what they think is wrong with the global economy?

Can it be that, when many experts agree that government meddling in housing and mortgages – particularly through mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – was central to the recent financial collapse, there has not been a single question on why Fannie and Freddie are still standing, propped up by government, and untouched?


Why, when everyone knows that Rick Santorum is a social conservative, would the question on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military be directed to him? His answer was a surprise to no one. Why wasn’t Romney the one questioned on this?

Why, instead of time being wasted with stupid questions like “Who on this stage would you choose as your vice president?” would the question not be asked “Who is your favorite justice on the Supreme Court”?

Both Romney and Michele Bachmann have said they will repeal Obamacare on day one.

Wouldn’t you think someone would ask what happens on day two? What would they do with our health care system, which clearly has problems?

With all the focus on Social Security, policy experts generally agree that the problems of Medicare are much bigger and more complex.

Yet, there has not been a single question about Medicare and what, if anything, should be done to reform it.

But perhaps even more fundamentally, the cable sponsors of these events have failed grotesquely to bring out the fault lines that divide these Republican candidates and the Republican Party.

Where are these candidates on Roe v Wade and the role of law in protecting unborn lives?

Where are these candidates on preservation on the integrity of traditional marriage?


With all the talk about states’ rights, why are there no questions about the appropriateness of a federal court overturning a popular vote in the state of California – Proposition 8 – to preserve the traditional definition of marriage in their state?

Or the denial of the District of Columbia government to even allow a vote of its residents on this issue before declaring same sex marriage legal?

Does the collapse of the traditional family in America – something undeniably happening as we rapidly approach almost half our children being born to unwed mothers – even matter? Should not these candidates be forced to weigh in on this?

Allowing this to become an exclusively technocratic discussion about the economy – like we’re all laboratory mice in a box with politicians pushing the buttons – obfuscates key differences between these Republican candidates and the two parties.

It is a symptom of the big problems of our country that we appear incapable of having presidential debates with serious questions.


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