With the Presidential elections just over a year away, the political landscape will soon be dominated by debates, speeches, interviews and campaign advertisements. The first of many debates occurred last night and offered much to be desired when one considers the meaning of the word debate. At best it was an exhibition of talking points and buzz word. While there is a sense of disappointment in the moderators for not creating an environment which afforded the candidates an opportunity to engage in necessary, in-depth deliberations, nonetheless it is not an event which should be completely undervalued or dismissed; especially given the extensive number of candidates now bidding for the Republican ticket. There are several noteworthy points which we should take away from this first debate.
In terms of what the debate provided us, it is probably best to identify it as merely a preview of the contending candidates which confirmed what most people likely already knew about each opponent. It provided what one might expect from a forum where candidates were limited to a one minute response. Yet, despite the limited response time we can often learn a great deal about someone when they are required to respond to potentially difficult, comprehensive questions within the constraints of short period of time. There is significance in observing the reactions of the candidates, each of whom are contending for a position which routinely encounters situations requiring immediate, decisive responses, sometimes leading to expansive ramifications for the country. This debate may not have provided us with a better understanding of how these candidates intend to fulfill their campaign commitments, but it did provide the viewer with a big picture overview of their overall demeanor and posture in a high-stakes environment.
While last night did not necessarily produce any winners or losers, it did reveal those who are able to articulate their convictions about a particular topic outside of the standard Republican Party talking points and phrases. In a party specific debate, the goal of a candidate should not be to articulate their similarities to the other candidates, but rather the distinctive marks which separate their approach to the topics. Those who were able to progress the conversation beyond the one liner phrases and buzz words which already define the Republican Party presented themselves as ones who will be worthwhile to watch in future debates, especially when provided ample time to articulate the issues in greater detail.
When we consider the overall structure of this debate itself, it is interesting to note the rationale behind the decision of Fox News to limit the debate to a two hour time block with only a one minute response time per candidate. Yet, what must be understood is that like every other cable news network, Fox News is competing for viewers, which requires a programing structure capable of accomplishing this goal. Therefore, we can only assume that the producers considered these time limits to be the breaking point for a large majority of their targeted audience. Yet, this does not represent a critique of the news networks so much as it does on the American culture and the ever shrinking attention span of Americans when it comes to significant matters such as the political scene. For many Americans the idea of watching a two hour discussion, even about issues which affect them daily, seems overly daunting especially on a Thursday evening during prime time television. It is inconceivable that anyone would think twice about watching a three hour football game, a two hour movie or an all-day marathon of Downton Abbey, but somehow spending two hours listening to a debate between people, a group from which many will one day select their next leader, seems uninteresting. The limitation of one minute responses could be associated with the goal of the moderators to cover a wide range of topics with the seventeen candidates within the short two hour window of time, but it could also be the result of a culture which seems disinterested in topics which cannot be reduced to a 144 character Twitter feed.
The Christian worldview understands that each person will one day give an account for how we spend our time, our resources and even how we voted in an election. We realize in voting for candidates that there will never be the perfect candidate, nor do we expect that the best candidate will be an individual who holds completely to our own worldview, but what is important is that we make the best choice based on our knowledge of the individual. A decision which comes not based on what anyone or any group would have us to believe is the best candidate, but rather one which is based on our own evaluation and assessment of the facts. To do this means that we must spend time to understand these issues which will be at the forefront of the campaigns and make an informed decision to vote for the person most capable of leading America in the right direction.