Opinion

The history of debates reflects a less substantive America

As the 2004 presidential debates begin, I’m reminded of more substantive times. Debates are no longer simply a meeting of two or more candidates for the purpose of discussing the issues. Now they’re seen as a defining moment in one’s quest for office. They’re deemed to be of such great importance that some candidates view them as essential to even having any impact in the election. Yet with the exception of the presidential debates, very few people think to consider debates that happen between candidates for other offices. Can you recall the last time there was significant media attention given to a County Commission candidate’s debate? Or for a State House of Representatives campaign? Or City Council? And yet, all of those offices have more immediate and direct impact on our lives than almost anything the president does.

In 1858, U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas, who was running for reelection, received a letter from his challenger asking if it “…will be agreeable to you to make an arrangement for you and myself to divide time, and address the same audience during the present canvass?” Douglas reluctantly agreed and subsequently met his opponent, Abraham Lincoln, seven times over the course of the next four months. If Kerry and Bush had made such an arrangement, most Americans would probably lose interest after the first two or three debates, complaining in the end that it cut into their favorite TV show, like when reruns of I Love Lucy were cancelled in order to cover the first manned landing on the moon and people called the network to complain.

This phenomenon corresponds to the rise of television. In the first debate of the 1960 election, those people who only heard the debate on the radio felt that Richard Nixon won, while those that saw the Don Hewitt-coached performance of John Kennedy on TV thought he won. The same issues, but the image made for television won out over the actual discussion. Unfortunately, today’s debates have become nothing more than a media spectacle unlikely to present anything we haven’t heard a million times already. Now we get to watch everything get packaged into sound bites for the evening news.

Do I blame the media for this? No. I blame Americans for wanting everything in five-second intervals so they can spend more time on really important things…like reality TV.

Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at s.wacholtz@umiami.edu.

September 30, 2004

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

Though it’s early, UM already has assembled an outstanding nine-member 2020 recruiting class, a grou ...

Three days before they open their season against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Miami Hurricanes h ...

The first half of Wednesday night’s game was as lousy as the weather outside the Watsco Center, as t ...

UM coach Manny Diaz took his staff to the Florida Keys on Tuesday evening to visit with famous Keys ...

Dominic Mammarelli didn’t only commit to the Miami Hurricanes because of Mark Richt and his old staf ...

The University of Miami will host the first symposium to explore LGBTQ human rights across the Ameri ...

UM experts react to a new ban that prohibits people in Key West from using certain types of sunscree ...

A matchmaker extraordinaire, Ricardo Cepeda, the manager of the UM Zebrafish Facility, is passionate ...

The Shelley family shares their story of four generations at the University of Miami. ...

Mark Rowlands, a University of Miami professor who adopted and raised a wolf-dog cub, observed the s ...

The Canes open the 75th season in program history and first under the direction of head coach Gino D ...

The No. 15 Miami women's tennis team is set to open league competition Saturday afternoon with ...

ACC unveils opponents for 20-game conference schedules for next three seasons. ...

Miami tops Clemson 65-64, as Johnson hits game-winner with 0.4 seconds remaining. ...

The Miami women's tennis team ascended two spots in this week's Oracle/ITA team rankings a ...

TMH Twitter
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.