The November midterm election is less than three months away.
This means debate season is approaching. For a political junkie like me, this is like Christmas, baseball Opening Day, and graduation all rolled into one.
There’s nothing I like more than a good old-fashioned debate. It’s like a professional wrestling match without the choreography.
One moderator, two candidates. Face to face. No teleprompter, no consultants, no handlers.
I’ve never understood candidates who try to dodge debates. If I were running for something, this would be my favorite part of the campaign. And frankly, if I were campaigning for political office, I would want to defend my positions and show off my knowledge of the issues. Otherwise, what’s the point?
But then if I got elected, I’d actually have to attend committee meetings and read complicated pieces of legislation. Or maybe not. Now, lawmakers just wait for their party leader to tell them how to vote. Except for the good ones, few as they may be, who realize you don’t have to be 100% in favor of something or 100% against. They understand “compromise,” a word that is rapidly disappearing. Today’s party members are joined together like those inseparable shopping carts at Walmart.
Here are some warning signs as we get into debate season.
1) Beware of “blah blah blah.” In 2020, I heard a candidate respond to a question by saying, “I don’t feel any need to have to explain where I stand on gun rights and blah blah blah.” Sir (or Madam), if all you’ve got is “blah blah blah,” I’ll just say “blah” when I see your name on the ballot.
2) Beware of candidates who have been coached to discuss one topic and one topic only. If their campaign research tells them that the current hot-button topic is education, that’s all you’ll hear from them. When the moderator asks for their opinion on climate change, they will respond, “I’m glad you asked that question.” (Wheels turning in their head). “When I’m out among the people, they tell me this is important to them.” (Furiously trying to remember their one and only talking point). “Climate change is a concern, but we shouldn’t overreact.” (Patting themselves on the back for saying it’s a big deal, but not that big a deal, thus satisfying both sides). We must certainly apply this to our schools, where students should be comfortable and safe, yet free from any outside influence. And good teachers should be rewarded, while we send the bad ones packing.” This answer, in various forms, will also be the candidate’s reply to questions about health care, Social Security, and their favorite color.
3) Beware of the no-shows. “Debate? Absolutely! Bring it on,” they’ll say. But when their handlers determine that they have a sizable lead in the polls, or that they would lose a debate against a sock puppet, suddenly every potential date is booked. We never know if they’re really busy or they’re just binge watching “The Great British Bake Off,” but they assure us they can’t find a free hour between now and November to face their opponent.
Well, Mr. No-Show, I don’t care how much I love you (or your party), or how much I loathe the other candidate. But if you can’t fend for yourself, you forfeit my vote.
Clearly, the bar is pretty low these days. If voters generally approve of you or your party or even your stand on the issues (if that’s still a thing), they’ll forgive a subpar debate performance. Odds are, if you’re that reluctant to debate, not much is expected of you anyway. Anything short of embarrassing bodily function noises will probably result in a “passing” grade (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
If there are any debates, I have one request for the moderator. Please make sure this question is included: “What is one good or positive thing you can say about your opponent?” The answer might reveal more about a candidate’s character than any policy question.
Finally, go to YouTube, and watch some debates from decades ago, before the current political circus came to every town. If any candidate can act like an adult, we’ve got a winner.