Who Won the Debate? Who Cares?

I have to be honest, I didn’t watch the debates.  Indeed, I really don’t listen to political speeches ore debates or advertisements in which the candidate is center stage.  Politicians are the very incarnation of the old saying, “talk is cheap.” In fact, when it comes to politicians, talk is worthless.  We all know politician lie. We know that politicians will say whatever they want to get elected.  We know that politicians will avoid giving real answers to any direct question.  Knowing these facts, why do we waste our time watching?

My hypothesis on this is that we watch politicians for the same reason we watch sports or any other television show.  We like the competition and we want to be entertained. And maybe, just maybe, like NASCAR, we might get to see a politician crash and burn.  But that’s another blog.

Regarding the Debates, they are irrelevent.  Most debates today are either scripted, pre-approved and/or so rehearsed that they are nothing more than stage performances designed to sell advertising space.  So despite the fact that I did not watch the debates, as a sociologist I could make certain predictions based on my assumptions that the candidates will put on great performances, and the viewers are mostly interested in being entertained.  My prediction was that devoted Democrats would claim Obama won, and would have good reasons to believe he did, devoted Republicans would claim McCain won, and would have equally valid arguments to make the claim.  Those who are undecided, however, will have no more significant information than they started with to make an informed decision.

It looks like my predictions were accurate.  Both candidates put on an adequate performance through which to claim victory.  There’s no empirical measure of victory thus far to assess victory.  Perhaps someone could survey undecided voters who selected a candidate after the debate and as a result of the debate.  To my knowledge, that has not happened yet.  Then we’ll have an idea of who “won.” But winning is not necessarily the result of superior performance.  It could have more to do with lighting and presentation. Again, the debates are worthless.

American politics has reached a point of stagnation.  Gone are the days of the Lincoln/Douglas debates when candidates used their logic and eloquence and rhetorical skills to hammer at issues and persuade crowds to the power of their ideals.  Now we simply vote based on party loyalty and the influence of charisma.  McCain and Obama are not exceptions to this rule.

Many of my students have an interest in the election. Interestingly, the student most interested in sports is also most interested in the election.  This is anecdotal, but it might be telling. I’ve told them to be skeptical about what their politicians say.  When the time comes for them to make their choices in the voting booth and with activist organizations I advise them to look for the social facts.  How have the candidates voted? What have they done to make the community, the nation and the world a better place. It’s all public record, accessible on-line. History is the only empirical evidence we have to determine the quality of the candidate.

It’s interesting that our media does nothing to highlight the voting records of our candidates, but rather waste their time with balderdash about campaign strategy, poll numbers, “who won the debate?” articles.  No-one ever wins the debate, let alone the voters.

I’ve found one great website that analyzes the words of the candidates and the veracity of what they say.  I would recommend PolitiFacts for anyone interested in the political discourse. I would also recommend Congress.org for those who want to learn their candidate’s voting record.


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