The “debates” among Republican candidates have been poorly structured and have offered insufficient substance. High in calories, they have offered little nutritional value while promoting spoiler advocacy. Some of the candidates have seemed unprepared and often the questions asked of them have been inane, meeting with inane responses. In addition to “gotcha” questions posed by media personalities evidently seeking to embarrass the speakers, of whom far too many have been on stage at the same time, and to invite them to trip over their shoelaces while making the media personalities look cool, there are other, related problems.
I still at least vaguely recall a 1962 debate at the Yale Political Union. Gus Hall, the head of the United States Communist Party, had been invited to address the Union. A debate was held on, as I recall, the issue “Resolved, Gus Hall’s Invitation to Address the Union Should be Withdrawn.” It was an eminently debatable resolution, tightly worded and limited in scope. The debate followed Bill Buckley’s keynote address; both were good and well focused. The thrust of Mr. Buckley’s remarks was, “We can no more collaborate with him to further the common understanding than Anne Frank could have collaborated with Goebbels in a dialogue on race relations.” Prior to Mr. Buckley’s keynote address, it had been very generally assumed that the resolution to dis-invite Mr. Hall would fail. It passed and Mr. Hall’s invitation was accordingly withdrawn. Mr. Buckley “won” the debate.
The current candidate “debates” are neither of manageable scope nor do they offer the viable candidates adequate opportunities to prepare and then to make their positions on specific topics both clearly understood and difficult to distort. If they are to become meaningful in the candidate selection process, substantial changes are needed.