Now that I am an “adult,” capable of voting and therefore of (maybe?) influencing our Great Nation, it has become important to me to figure out which candidate I should back in the 2020 elections. In order to determine which politician/entrepreneur/spiritual guru deserves the vastly useful and far-reaching powers of my support, I have been avidly seeking out any information that may shed light on who will be the strongest contender against The Donald. My search has involved perusing the newspaper, reading policy proposals, and, of course, watching the primary debates. While I am just as unsure about who to support as I was at the beginning of my quest, I have stumbled upon one earth shattering realization: that televised debates are actually detrimental to the health of our democracy and should be abolished. The brief amount of time allotted to each speaker during a debate prevents them from providing detailed, fact-based explanations of their policy plans and instead rewards showmanship and bluster. This dearth of real information, coupled with the absence of particulars about a candidate’s political record, ensures that televised debates are better suited to charismatic demagogues such as The Don than to real politicians.

By providing candidates with such a small amount of time to answer each question, debates force participants to focus on surface-level concerns that can be explained in a minute instead of on detailed explanations of their policies. Take the issue of healthcare as an example. Every single Democratic debate has focused intensely on the topic of insurance, with the moderates attacking Elizabernie Warders and their radical plan to let people afford to be healthy. However, each of these debates has centered on ideas that are made to seem important but actually don’t matter nearly as much as more detail-oriented issues. During the most recent debate, Joelian O’Bookdigieg repeatedly brought up the point that Elizabernie would be taking away the private healthcare of millions of Americans in favor of government-provided healthcare.

At first glance, such a concern seems valid. I wouldn’t want to give up my private healthcare for some lower quality public healthcare. But what if public healthcare wouldn’t actually be so bad? What if allowing private insurance to remain would allow the healthcare providers’ stranglehold on the medical economy to continue, thereby undercutting the effectiveness of a public option plan? What if universal healthcare would allow for high quality healthcare for all by eliminating the profits/expenses that come with private insurance? Since I know roughly zilch about the economics of healthcare, I cannot answer any of these questions. Therefore, without doing extensive independent research, I would be coerced into believing the legitimacy of the claims made by whichever candidate had the most charismatic explanation, not the most practical or realistic explanation. If I got my information about candidates’ policy plans from their actual, detailed explanations and from reviews by experts in the field, I would be able to make a much more informed choice about which candidate actually has the strongest idea for the future of our country. However, since the debates are so emphasized in the media and are such an event, people would much rather just watch them than go out and do the tedious work of comparing financial data.

In addition to lacking facts about a candidate’s policy proposals, televised debates also don’t contain information about a candidate’s political successes. While the glaring errors in a politician’s record are continuously brought up with glee by their opponents, the more mundane aspects of their time as a civil servant, which make up a majority of their career, are often overlooked. Since each participant isn’t given a long-winded introduction detailing their congressional voting record, mayoral policy enactments or financial successes, the viewer has no idea whether that candidate has actually been able to effect change or not. While it is important to acknowledge a politician’s past failures (Joe Biden), it is also essential that voters know whether a candidate is all bluster or if they’ve actually been capable of getting things done. How can we decide if a candidate will successfully fight for us in the Oval Office if we don’t even know if they’ve been successfully fighting for us during the rest of their life?

The absence of these facts in the debates creates an atmosphere that is perfect for a demagogue such as Donald Trump. Since he doesn’t have to provide any evidence, he can spit out claims such as “We’re going to have Mexico pay for the wall,” and nobody on stage will have the time necessary to sufficiently disprove him. Furthermore, by putting so much emphasis on these televised debates, charismatic celebrities such as Trump have an automatic edge due to their showmanship, putting those with real governmental skills at a disadvantage. All of the world’s great dictatorships have been built on cults of personality. From Stalin to Mao, authoritarian regimes have been founded on an individual who can provide charismatic promises without the need to follow them up. Debates are the perfect medium for such an individual to shine and are therefore detrimental to the health of our democratic system. 

While I believe that the current system of televised debates is far from ideal, I do understand the importance of being able to compare and contrast different candidates in one, nicely packaged format. Instead of throwing all the candidates on stage together to argue it out “Hunger Games”–style, I would instead have each candidate write out a well-researched speech, with citations and all that jazz, and then have them record themselves reading that speech. Then the speeches from each candidate would be televised one after the other, with the actual text of the speeches released onto the internet simultaneously. This way voters could get a sense of what each candidate was actually like as a human person without focusing entirely on the sheer charisma of each candidate. Additionally, if one candidate eschews legitimate and reliable sources in their speech, it is more evident that they are not telling the truth than it is in a medium where everybody is just saying things without verifying that they are true. While this system is obviously not perfect, as it relies upon voters reading the speeches of the candidates to verify the credibility of their sources, it is a step away from personal charisma and towards verifiable information. As our current president defiles the sanctity of our governmental integrity on a daily basis, we need to intensify our emphasis on the truth.


Daniel Knopf can be reached at Daniel is a member of the class of 2022. 

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