If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Participate In a Presidential Candidates’ Debate

presidential debate picture

I’m not sure what the mothers of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would say, but my mother would have been appalled at the substance of the most recent Republican presidential candidates’ debate.  She repeated to me ad nauseum as I was growing up, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Given the tenor of the tenth Republican “debate” of this campaign, there would have been a great deal of on air silence if Mom’s directive had been followed.

To call this spectacle a debate is really stretching it.  The dictionary leads us to believe that a debate is a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public forum where opposing arguments are put forth.  Undeniably The Donald, Ted and Marco were speaking publicly as the “debate” was carried live on national TV.  And there was definitely arguing going on.  Was it formal?  Well, there were rules, but the event had more the air of a free for all than a scholarly discussion, including whistling, whooping and cheering from the audience members..  And the topic?  Best I can determine, the topic was what a Bozo an opposing candidate was.

I had friends in high school who were on the debate team.  They were academic types who were capable of presenting reasoned, logical and calm arguments for their position.   These teenagers  strove to make their points with finesse not verbal fists.   Debates in which high school students participate through their schools  are night and day different from those in which the Republican presidential candidates take part. The former are events were order and rules control; the latter are events where chaos and egos are at the wheel.

Apparently there is an art to debate, and basic rules for debating are generally recognized.  Strict rules of conduct are to be followed.  Without exception, the resources I reviewed to bone up on debate all stated that shouting is not a recognized strategy.  One source expressly stated that a debate is “not a shouting match.”  Another site opined that the best debate style was to keep calm and present points in a clear speaking voice and “definitely not to shout.”  Clearly, The Donald, Ted and Marco didn’t read these debate resources or, if they did, in their infinite wisdom chose to thumb their noses at them.  Why have a reasoned discussion when you can shout over each other and trade insults?

Rather than setting forth their  positions on key issues–such as the economy, immigration reform, etc.– the three top candidates spent time attacking each other.  Civilized Dr. Ben Carson was ignored because he didn’t sink to this level.  He did regret the lack of attention and humorously asked, “Can someone attack me please?”


Regardless of the content of the debate, voters did learn quite a bit.  Here’s what I was able to gather:

–Cruz is a “basket case” per Donald Trump.

–Trump only thinks Palestinians are “a real estate deal” per Cruz.

–Trump repeats himself per Rubio.

–Trump has a history of hiring illegal immigrants per Rubio.

–Rubio has hired “no one” per Trump.

–Cruz is a “liar” per Trump.

–Rubio is a “choke artist” per Trump.

rubio debate

Wow!  Do any of these “debaters” present a presidential image based on such kindergartenlike  exchanges of insults?

Can you imagine if the father of our country had been required to debate a challenger for President?  Do you think George Washington would’ve said, “You know, I cannot tell a lie.  But my opponent is lying through his wooden teeth!”  In 1858 Abraham Lincoln actually did take part in a series of seven debates with opponent Sen. Stephen A Douglas.  Unless I was asleep in history class that day, I don’t recall learning anything about Honest Abe winning the election because he out insulted Sen. Douglas in a debate.  Mr. Lincoln didn’t spew that the “Little Giant” was too short to be president or that Sen. Douglas choked and couldn’t get Mary Todd to marry him much less get elected president.  (Yes, Mary married up, going from dating short Stephen to lofty Lincoln!)

Lincoln debate

Since 1976 general election debates between presidential candidates have been a part of the presidential campaigns.  Perhaps it is time to rethink the value of this activity.  Are these debates really allowing voters to make an informed decision as to who is the man/woman for the job? Or are they just scaring the heck out of us because we know we can’t choose “none of the above”?  Hey!  The question whether debates are a positive contribution to voters in an election campaign would make a great debate topic–for high schoolers who follow strict debate guidelines, don’t yell and take either an affirmative/negative position on the issue itself and not an opposing debater.

And do we really need ten+ debates?  Seeing these candidates so much (overexposure?) may have a negative backlash.  Makes me think of the saying that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I am not looking forward to yet another “debate” much less four more years of these type antics when the winner occupies the White House.  How many more months of this torture must we endure before the general election puts us out of our negative campaign misery?









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