A Big Problem With Presidential Debates

What needs to be done to change the debates? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve done debate before. Last year I debated Dan Barker on the existence of God. In many ways, I consider that debate more substantial than any presidential debate I have ever seen. I would say that about most debates I have seen on the topic of religion. Why is that?

I say this also as someone who enjoyed last night’s vice-presidential debate. I came in supporting Pence and on substance definitely, I think he won, but I also think he won on presentation and style. So this isn’t the case of someone saying “Last night’s debate was awful. Here’s what needs to be different” and having the reason because I don’t think my side did good. Now you can think Pence did terrible, and that’s fine, but let it be accepted that my thinking is not based on a disappointment and thus wanting to change the rules.

When Barker and I debated, we had a lengthy time to debate one question. Does God exist? After that, we then took live questions from the audience. If you have just one question and each of you has fifteen minutes at the start to make a case, you can make a substantive case.

So you sit down for last night’s debate and the first thing you hear is about 9 segments of ten minutes each. Sorry, but economic plans and matters related to climate change and abortion are not able to really be covered that substantially in just 10 minutes apiece.

Part of that is our culture has become a soundbite culture. We want an answer and we want it quick. If you want to give an economic plan, you need to be able to have time to explain why you think raising or cutting taxes will help and most people don’t read anything on economics to consider such a question.

What about health-care? Nope. You can’t really lay out a whole plan in that short amount of time. Not only that, we have to remember the other side has to have time to respond to that within a few minutes and then the original presenter needs to respond and wait, both of them are supposed to make a case in that time.

At the same time, I understand that especially in any case, the current president and vice-president are busy and won’t always be able to do a debate. What would I recommend? More debates from people that each party will say represents their side versus one on the other. Want to debate health care? Have a whole debate on that topic. Climate change? Racism? Yes. A whole debate.

Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen simply because most people don’t really have that kind of attention span anymore. We want quick and soundbite answers to questions and think everything should be able to be given in bite-size portions. It can’t be. That’s the nature of the beast. I don’t care who is giving the case. If this is a substantive issue, it requires work.

And dare I say it, maybe if you want to understand these issues, you will need to do that on your own some time. Watch on Facebook and when anything major happens, everyone becomes an expert on everything. We live in an age where we think we are worth listening to because we have an opinion. No. Your opinion might be right and valid, but you need to read up on it and give an informed reason for your case.

Ultimately, it all comes down to a public willing to better educate themselves. Unfortunately, I have no pipe dreams of this happening anytime soon. I also see no way to bring it about instantly. The best I would say is start with the churches being willing to educate themselves and hire preachers who know what they’re talking about and have educational credentials. If we want change to start with the world, it needs to start with us.

We could all bear to be more informed anyway.

Also, let questions come from the audience more often that’s there live. Let them tell us what is most important to us. Don’t let a moderator decide that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)