Are debates to be won or lost? If so, there was certainly no winner between the three debaters at last Tuesday night’s presidential debate. After the debate concluded, conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted to his 3.1 million followers on Tuesday night: “I literally have no idea who won this debate. I just know we all lost.” Former Democratic candidate for the presidency Andrew Yang concurred, writing that “we all deserve something for sitting through it.” Glad both sides can finally agree on something.
Are debates to be informative? If so, this past presidential debate was an anomaly. I didn’t feel more informed at 7:30 PM than I did at 6:00 PM. Both candidates made untruthful and misleading statements during the debate. Former Vice President Biden lied about issues such as violent crime statistics and the trade deficit while President Trump inflated job numbers and personally attacked Biden using inaccurate information. If that wasn’t enough, both candidates ignored the previously-agreed-upon debate rules by constantly trying to interrupt and talk over each other leaving the moderator, Chris Wallace, visibly exasperated.
I think the satirical news outlet, The Babylon Bee, most accurately described the presidential debate as having been interrupted after the broadcast signal accidentally picked up two old men yelling at each other in an old folks’ home. I have also seen some on social media liken the setting to a kindergarten where two 5-year-olds bickered as the teacher struggled to maintain control. In short, the debate was exhausting to watch and I don’t think I could stand to recap it all in one article.
What this article seeks to express is my frustration as an independent voter at the lack of substantive information presented by the two candidates at the debate. I must confess that, like 44 percent of voters polled by the Wall Street Journal, the presidential debate was never going to sway my vote, largely because I am a policy-over-person voter. Even so, that did not stop me from being dismayed at the debate performance from both candidates.
I would consider myself somewhat of a political buff — someone who appreciates the debates of yore with Ronald Reagan’s famous one-liners and Lloyd Bentsen’s zinger against Dan Quayle. Yet between all the well-known quips and clever comebacks, the candidates still offered substantive answers regarding policy reform that informed voters. Now, we are stuck dealing with personal jabs and subject matter that is hardly relevant to voters. It’s no wonder that in this election, the number of Americans who say the debates won’t sway them is the highest in 20 years.
Maybe politics have gradually been dumbed down since the first political debates emerged in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. The National Constitution Center argues that those two set the “debate gold standard.” Lincoln and Douglas faced off on seven occasions for the Illinois Senate election. Each candidate “had to make a one-hour opening statement followed by a 90-minute rebuttal – outside and without microphones.” Try to imagine Donald Trump and Joe Biden doing that now.
Maybe broadcasting the debate on national television adds another level of theatrics with the optics. The first nationally televised presidential debate took place in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Nixon and Kennedy “made debates relevant,” according to the NCC. “In the first debate, a fresh-looking Kennedy stood in contrast to Nixon, who had a 5 o’clock shadow and was coming off an illness.” But radio listeners didn’t get the visuals, and they thought Nixon was “the better debater.”
In other words, if you feel the need to determine the real winner of Tuesday night’s debate for yourself, I suggest reading the transcript rather than re-watching it.
While I maintain that the candidates’ behavior was inexcusable—especially coming from a man who occupies the nation’s highest office and another who is seeking that office—I’m not even going to try unpacking why it happened. That is a job for a masochistic psychologist. Furthermore, it is not the main reason why I am disappointed with the results. As a policy-over-person voter, I think behavior should come second to information, and there simply was not enough substantive information provided at the debate.
The reality is: American voters already knew each candidate’s personality before the debate. Trump has been president for just under 4 years and Biden has held public office for 47 years. Shapiro, despite being a staunch conservative and somewhat of a controversial political figure, offered some of the most unbiased and apt analysis of the debate that I have seen: “Here’s the problem. This debate is basically just underscoring the personalities. It has shifted no one on any issue at all.”
After watching the debate, I came to the conclusion that voters must take matters into our own hands. The candidates are not going to tell us what we deserve to hear.
For example, Biden refused to answer whether or not he would pack the court. He justified his refusal by saying: “Whatever position I take, that will become the issue.” Excuse me, but you’re running for president, Mr. Biden. You are supposed to take a position on issues that are important to the American people. We deserve to know.
Just watching the debate ultimately does not make you an informed voter. There are a number of things you must do in addition to watching the debate in order to cast a more informed vote.
First of all, consider reading multiple articles that cover the same topic or event. Every single news outlet has a spin; there is no such thing as independent, non-partisan journalism. You should know which publications lean conservative and which publications lean liberal. Try to read both sides and get different perspectives on the same issue.
Request a voter information guide if your state offers one. For example, the State of California Secretary of State’s office will send voter information guides upon registering to vote if you request it. If you are not yet registered to vote, here is the link to register. The voter registration guide can be accessed through that website.
If possible, have a civil conversation with a friend or family member that you know thinks differently. It is important to gain other perspectives, especially from someone close to you. At the end of the day, you should recognize that you are both worth listening to. Hopefully, these conversations will make you either reshape your thinking or be challenged to the point of further understanding your current position.
Finally, I highly recommend this political quiz if you are unsure about which political party you most identify with. You should also take the quiz even if you think you know who to affiliate with because you might be surprised. Within the quiz, each section displays a handful of questions about a given topic, but gives you the option to answer more questions. After you submit your responses, the website will display one list of established political parties in the United States and another list with the national and local candidates in current elections, with a percentage next to each indicating how many issues you agree on.
Aside from the quiz, there is a lot of content this site offers like nonpartisan information on popular issues and political data.
In short, I hope everyone goes beyond the bare minimum in informing themselves about the issues pressing our country, and I hope the information I provided is useful. I’ll leave you with one final call to action: VOTE!