Can we be done with debates already?
Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate between current Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) was certainly a good deal more civil than last week’s showdown between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. But that’s a really low bar to clear, and in any case the apparent civility was in some ways superficial — Pence barged past moderator Susan Page’s time limits on multiple occasions, ignoring her attempts to cut him off, but he did it more calmly than Trump’s frenetic attempts to dominate Biden.
Americans are probably no more enlightened after watching the veep showdown than they were before, however. Both candidates sidestepped questions — Harris avoided giving a clear answer on whether Democrats will try to pack the Supreme Court, while Pence pretended not to know how Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett would rule on abortion. Often, both candidates pivoted to the topics they wanted to discuss rather than respond to queries posed to them.
It’s important to remember that presidential (and vice presidential) debates are a relatively recent addition to American politics: They’ve been held regularly only since 1976, and the most memorable moments have tended to be zingers or other matters of style. In that sense, presidential debates tend to be more akin to reality television shows than they are to the practice of governing.
So skip the pretense. Give both candidates TV airtime before Election Day and let them make their cases to the American people. But stop putting them in a room together — especially during a pandemic — and acting like we’re witnessing a frank exchange of views. If debates are reality TV, it’s time for the show to be canceled. Joel Mathis