Election Day is fast approaching and if the political advertisements, bumper stickers and increase in material for “The Daily Show” didn’t make it apparent enough, Facebook sure has. It’s during this time that people’s Facebook walls go from a collection of veiled dramatic statuses, pictures of partying and various memes to a smorgasbord of political activism (which, in retrospect, will probably contain a variety of memes as well).
The hustle and bustle reaches its peak during debate nights, when millions of eyes fixate on the candidates on their TVs or, more commonly these days, on live online streams so they can be the first to come up with the wittiest tweet on the block.
But if what I see plastered all over the Internet is any sort of indication of what the public actually gets and expects from these debates, I’m worried as to whether these rhetorical battles of ideologies have become nothing more than a form of sideshow entertainment for the American people.
The presidential and vice presidential debates are always championed as a chance for the candidates to convince undecided voters that they’re the right person for the job, as well as inspire and reassure those whose votes they already have.
Unfortunately, people’s response to the debates seems to illustrate that they don’t watch the debate for these reasons. Rather, the main viewership — those who are already firmly decided on a candidate — watch like circling vultures for any gaffe or quote the opposition might say so they can parade it around as proof of the candidate’s idiocy.
The debates have become an entirely negative experience. You rarely hear or read something along the lines of “Obama really legitimized his agenda tonight!” or “Romney’s performance in last night’s debate eloquently pointed out current problems with Obama’s administration.” Rather, it’s all sensationalist cries of “Oh my god! Did you hear what Romney just said?!” and “Obama’s so cowardly tonight!”
When asked why they think candidate X won the debate, the usual response is because candidate Y lost, not due to anything positive candidate X may have done. It’s the lies and gaffes that get us to make our decisions, not charismatic speeches and well-made arguments. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have candidates scrutinized in such a public manner, but it’s the things the public focuses on in the first place that are a little troubling.
It’d be wrong of me to put all the blame on the voters, though. The candidates themselves aren’t helping the situation at all. They all too eagerly fall into the vaudeville mentality and spend the debates taking potshots at each other like a couple of children with brand-new BB guns.
Too afraid of losing the middle-ground voters, they tiptoe around political issues so they don’t leave themselves open to the caustic words of their opponent and mass media, all the while throwing around political jargon to fill in the gaps.
Instead of being proud of their own performances, they spend post-debate speeches boasting of quips they made about “horses and bayonets” and “Big Bird,” highlighting their opponent’s slip-ups. As we turn off our TV sets or open another tab in our web browser, all we’re left with is an uninformative, unmoving and entirely boring experience.
It’s a sad state of affairs and many people I know, myself included, wonder why we even watch the debates anymore. Even as we watch, the same conclusion comes to rest on all of our lips: things need to change.