In high school, we had local debate teams. In college, we had college debate teams that could compete nationally. In law school, we had what was called Moot Court. In each of these, the best and the brightest competed in basically convincing a neutral that one side of an argument was more worthy of being correct.
For the past 20 years, I have judged Northwestern Law School’s spring Moot Court competitions. There are three “judges” who hear both sides of a novel legal issue. For example, a Constitutional question might be whether a new president could, with the help of a friendly Congress, increase the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to another number. Positions are drawn, and the debaters give their arguments based on the current law or even why the current laws should be changed.
Now, we have seen two debates, one for the candidates for president and one for the office of vice president. And we are the judges. But what are we judging? Are we critiquing the speakers on their ability to sell their side of the argument? In other words, the most gifted speaker/debater wins in spite of the message. I would hope not. The student debates are judged on how well the speaker does — not necessarily the actual right/wrong side but on his or her presentation. Usually, there is a flip of a coin or a draw of a card to see which side of the argument a debater is assigned to defend.
Rightly so, the debates we have watched should not really have a winner or a loser. That is not a contest as such. Sure, each side long ago has chosen the position he or she wants. So, the idea behind these kinds of debates is twofold. How well the candidate presents his or her side of the issue is important so we can see how he or she speaks and would represent our country. However, all of these four are professional speakers and successful politicians. The second side of the presentation is factual. What will candidate No. 1 do in regard to major issues facing our nation, be it the pandemic, taxes, unemployment, racial equality and perhaps climate change? Then, candidate No. 2 should respond.
But here is where I was troubled. We all agree the first presidential debate was horrible and a disgrace to our national image. But what issues were clearly laid out over which there was disagreement? Certainly one side stated his position on white supremacy, and the other would not. Clearly both sides ducked important questions. President Trump ducked whether he would peacefully leave office in January if defeated. Biden would not elaborate in any way if he would try to increase the number of Supreme Court justices. What new information did we learn?
Then, we moved on to the vice president debates. We learned quickly both are good speakers and somewhat akin to their senior partners in attitude and presentation. But then, the interest waned.
Mr. Pence would not answer half the questions posed to him and copied his boss in his run on after his time was up. But both candidates stuck to their preplanned presentations even if the answers did not match the questions. Pence blocked any attempt to get answers about Trump peacefully leaving office if defeated. And Sen. Harris would not answer questions about packing the Supreme Court. Each candidate openly criticized what the other side had accomplished in the last four years, and the other criticized the proposed agenda of Biden. Pence went back 50-plus years with criticism on Biden, citing incorrect statistics, and Harris used just as many wrong examples in her criticism of the Trump administration. Neither came close to getting the correct numbers of unemployed workers at various times, be it at present or during President Barack Obama’s term. Fact checkers later pointed out both were wrong.
I have to write an article a bit early in the week, so as I write this, there hasn’t been a second presidential debate, and it appears the scheduled next one is not happening. Instead, separate town hall presentations will occur. That way, one candidate can stroll the stage and be applauded his way. The coordinator wanted it virtual, but Trump, though he said he wanted a debate, demanded it be in person, even though he still is contagious. And Biden wanted it virtual because at least some Washington figures don’t want to be infected by those who refuse to wear masks. Even Trump’s doctors wanted to wait until Monday to see how contagious he would be. I always have proposed when it isn’t debater No. 1’s turn, then his mike is shut off. Trump’s crew doesn’t want that to happen either.
But seriously, both presidential candidates have shown their colors, and neither clearly has defined his plans for what lies ahead. Both are excellent in criticizing the other candidate and avoiding questions that could divide their supporters.
Furthermore, hundreds of thousands already have voted. And for those who haven’t, probably 98 percent already are decided on how they will vote in the national elections. So, what is the point? Ego fulfillment? I am not sure I will be watching any more if they occur. What is the point of watching? Ultimate boredom with the pandemic? Cancel the last one as well, and let’s vote.
Oh, I already did.