By now, you have heard and seen it all about the first presidential debate, which many Americans are struggling to call a “debate.” It’s been called a lot of things, mostly negative. Americans instinctively know what debate should look and sound like. For sure, the debate did not follow the rules for civility that we observe here at Common Sense Civics and Citizenship. Presidential debates are a part of our American heritage. Since we study and discuss our legacy of civics and citizenship, not politics, let’s apply some common sense.
What I saw was not a debate. The moderator said several times that it was an “open discussion.” An open discussion has different rules than a debate. We all know that open discussions can include fighting, arguments, expletives. So, the Commission on Presidential Debates ought to bill this as an open discussion. That way, our expectations match what the candidates deliver if it turns into a free-for-all. (The Commission has announced that it is developing a new format with a structure for the remaining two debates.)
Next, what should a good debate include? Here are a few simple ideas that every American understands:
-Employ a structure that provides point (affirmative), counterpoint (opposing), and rebuttal. When teaching the art of conversation to little children, we use a ball. When I have the ball, I talk. When you have the ball, you talk. When the timer rings, you must throw the ball back to me.
-Contestants remain calm. (I’ll leave that right there).
-Use a moderator or debate judge that is impartial
-Avoid allowing the other side to define you and your argument before you define it. (This is the point where we heard so much crosstalk and interruption).
-Speak loud and clear.
-Stay on topic.
-Look for logical fallacies in the opponent’s argument, not soundbite opportunities. Address the logical fallacies.
I’m not a debater, but I know a good argument when I hear one. What additional structure or rules would you like to see in a presidential debate?
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship. ??