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Presidential debates fail to provide real ideas to voters


October 18, 2012

The first presidential debate drew 67.2 million viewers. The second pulled in 56.9 viewers. When considering the way the debates are run now, it is surprising that so many people would watch two grown men work so hard at not answering questions directed at them.

Realistically, the debates have turned into a high class, three-person version, of “Jersey Shore.” People are not watching because they don’t know who to vote for; most of them already know that. They are watching to see someone make a fool of themselves or say something funny and/or stupid.

Don’t think that’s true? What have been, for the most part, the highlights from the first two debates? Jim Lehrer’s pathetic attempt to control the first debate. Mitt Romney stating that he does, in fact, love Big Bird. Moderator Candy Crowley stepping into the second debate. And who could forget Romney’s binder of women?

Which one of these things has anything to do with the pressing issues facing, for example, the economy? Not a single one of them.

The debates have become a two-party, scripted, reality TV show. If you don’t believe that then look no further than both Romney and Barack Obama completely ignoring their time constraints on answers and never really answering the questions posed to them. Both candidates know what they are going to say, how they are going to say it and when they are going to say it.

The reason for this is the fact that the debates are, more or less, completely controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. If you don’t believe that, look no further than the fact that only once in U.S. history has a third party candidate been invited to a debate. That was 20 years ago in 1992 when Ross Perot was invited to one debate.

In fact, at the second debate this year, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala were arrested outside of the building where the debate was being held while trying to protest the fact that they were not allowed to be a part of the debates. Stein and Honkala will be on the ballot in 38 states.

An organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates is responsible for the travesty we see three times, and once for the vice presidential candidates, before each presidential election.

This commission states that to be a part of the debate a candidate must have 15 percent of the nation’s support based on certain national polls. Of course, we all know how accurate and unbiased polls are.

The reason, in theory at least, would be that a third candidate would do more harm than good to the candidates from the two major parties. It’s very likely that, given an equal opportunity, the third party would probably show up the other two candidates. Why? Because they would probably answer the questions both directly and in a way the average person would both connect to and understand.

However, the current structure of the debates is not going to change any time soon. And as much as I, or any other person complains about the current setup we will continue to participate in it. The ratings will probably be lower again for the third debate on Oct. 22. Yet about 40 million people will still tune in, and I will be one of them.

Benjamin Lamers is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the <em>Student Voice</em> during fall semester 2013.


Erin on 30 Oct 2012: Great article, sir!