Are the Debates Cockfights?

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I get nervous on the days leading up to the Republican debates. During the debates, I’m in a state of emotional turmoil.  I have high blood pressure, for which I take medication, but it doesn’t prevent me from getting jittery and frazzled watching the debates.

I think what causes me to get upset is that I don’t like shouting, goading, or “gotcha” moments.  I was in the debate club in high school and ours were nothing like these.  These just strike me as mean-spirited shouting matches.

I'll vote for the Republican candidate, whoever he or she is.

I’m a 70-year-old former Democrat woman, and my former Democrat husband of 45 years encourages me not to watch since the debates upset me so much.  Is it my civic duty to see every one?  What is your view?

Nervous Wreck in Nebraska

Dear Nervous Wreck,

No, it's not your duty to do something that makes you as anxious as watching the Republican debates, especially since the effort serves no useful purpose.

These so-called debates may evoke feelings in you comparable to those produced by watching a cockfight:

If you had written that it makes you anxious to drive to babysit for your grandchildren, I might have offered a different response, since that presumably serves an important purpose in the lives of your family members.

But why should you endure the stress of watching yet another debate? The fact is that whoever “wins” any particular debate may or may not be the Republican candidate a year from now. Anyway, the debates -- like cockfights -- are judged on who lost the most prestige -- or plumage.

If you vote in your state’s Republican primary, it is a good idea to educate yourself on the candidates' positions, but there are many ways of doing so without subjecting yourself to the shouting matches the debates have become.


Although many can watch a debate coolly without emotional involvement, for others it can be stressful.  Some people are better equipped than others to extract content from what they hear while remaining unaffected by the anger and nastiness of the delivery.

There are those who actively enjoy a variety of contests of belligerence and bellicosity: boxing, wrestling, bullfighting, dogfighting and cockfighting, to name just a few. Modern televised political debates, unlike the real debates in the golden era of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, have deteriorated into a combination of these five sports.

Many viewers find the attacks during the debates as agonizing as the screech of chalk on the blackboards of our minds.

Watching this gives new meaning to the expression "getting in your face":


Much that can be gleaned from watching the debates is already clear. Governor Mitt Romney seems to have entered the latest one thinking it was a coronation rather than a competition.

One moment in the Las Vegas debate was worth seeing: the demolition of Romney as Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected. When Governor Rick Perry rattled his cage by mentioning illegal aliens mowing his vast lawns, Romney's ill-concealed contempt for the Texas governor soared into overdrive, revealing just how condescending, nasty, and obnoxious Romney can be.  Calling for help from Anderson Cooper, of all people, made Romney seem like a helpless child looking to his father or his older brother -- and he has one, six years older, G. Scott Romney -- to intervene in a schoolyard fracas.

Where will Anderson or Scott be if Romney has to face down North Korea's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, or Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Romney then made a statement that was a major blunder, saying he told his lawn-mowing contractor that he, Romney, couldn't hire a company that employed illegal aliens because he was running for public office. Wrong. The reason should have been because it's illegal, not because he can't do it as a candidate for office, implying he'd have had no problem breaking the law if only it weren't for the inconvenient truth that he wants to be president. Interesting how the truth comes out, particularly under stress.

If a perfectly fair question from a fellow Republican about his lawn service can infuriate Romney to this extent, how will he ever deal with Democrats, or America's enemies abroad?

Not that most people don’t get resentful when their shortcomings are pointed out, but Romney behaved inappropriately when he invaded Perry's space by placing his hand on Perry’s shoulder. Romney's unpersuasive Mr. Nice Guy mask dropped to the Las Vegas floor with a mighty clang, leaving him standing there -- self-righteous,  frazzled, and vainglorious -- for all to see.

The American president must work well with Congress as well as with foreign leaders, and Romney's testiness, rich kid hauteur, and thin skin won't help in either arena. His Gore-like sighs and fake smiles whenever RomneyCare or his other policy lapses are criticized don't help his cause, either.

When he's disparaged by others onstage, Romney stares at the speaker with what he imagines is a saintly, patient smile as if he's exuding serenity as he manfully endures the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. On the contrary, the irritating facial expression that he thinks looks like a benign smile in fact reveals his utter intolerance of anyone who dares to mention his failures. Bad sign. Obama-like.

In a transparent bid to pander to Jewish voters, Romney's Las Vegas presentation included telling Herman Cain that he, Cain, had a lot of chutzpah -- Yiddish for nerve or gallBut Romney, whose circle doesn't appear to include anyone who actually uses the word, mispronounced and mangled it, not a good thing when you're trying to pander -- and pandering itself isn't a good thing, either. Brings back memories of Slick Willie.

Here's a song that sums up how Romney comes across to many voters: