Tonight is the first of what will undoubtedly be dozens of political debates between now and the November 2016 presidential elections. I will not be watching; debates are a major waste of time.
The role of the President of the United States is not to debate, it is to govern. Yes, there is debating in the Congress but that’s where it belongs, not on TV screens where people who don’t have a clue about the real qualifications of the candidates to govern can watch and think they are seeing how capable the person is to perform the Constitutional duties of the chief executive officer of the US government. Debating was not a part of the presidential election process until the 1970s when the television networks saw them as an avenue to attract viewers. The first presidential debate was between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in 1960 but there were no more debates until 1976 when Jimmy Carter debated President Gerald Ford. There had been debates before, but they were not presidential debates with the exception of the 1958 Democratic candidate debate between Adlai Stephenson and Senator Estes Kefauver.
It is commonly known that Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence and is considered one of the Founding Fathers, was no debater. In fact, he was so bad at debating that he gave up the practice of law and became a politician. Even after he was elected to the Continental Congress, he generally kept his mouth shut. His opinions became well known, but only because he was gifted at expressing himself in writing. Jefferson was elected as the third president of the United States and founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which was known as the Republican Party, but he expressed his opinions through pamphlets and in the newspapers of the day. Even after he was elected president, Jefferson made very few public speeches.
The problem with debating is that it gives a false picture of a candidate’s true abilities. Debating is arguing, which may be appropriate in a court room and in a state house, but it has little to do with actual governing and executing, which is what the chief executive is actually supposed to do once he or she takes office. Remember that debating is considered to be essentially a sport, and high schools and colleges have debating teams who participate in contests with other schools. The debater doesn’t even have to know his or her subject; they just have to be able argue their point in such a manner as to “defeat” their opponent. The observer may not even be aware of their knowledge or lack of it; all they see is the candidate’s ability to present themselves, not their position. A more effective means of determining a candidate’s abilities is by scrutinizing their record in government, and I’m not referring to how a member of Congress voted because legislating is not governing. There’s a good reason the US government is divided into three separate but equal branches, one to make laws, one to interpret them and one to execute them. The Executive Branch neither makes or interprets legislation (other than determining how to follow it) but to carry it out. One of the reasons the Obama Administration is ineffective is because the White House basically ignores legislation and writes its own laws through presidential decree.
No doubt a lot of people will tune in to watch the Republican candidates argue but I won’t be one of them. I’m interested in ability to govern, not argue.