The Debatable Debate
I may be wrong and you may be right and, by an effort, we may get nearer the truth.”Karl Popper
Watching the debate was, initially, maddening–much like the first Fox debate, in which Megyn Kelly opened the “show” with loose charges of sexism levied at Donald Trump based on comments he had made years ago about Rosie O’Donnell. The CNN debate followed a similar suit. CNN had promised to capture the GOP combative spirit and Jake Tapper kept that promise by opening with a “he said, she said” script, pitting the candidates against Donald Trump. With the Outsiders surging in the polls and Donald Trump drawing stadium-sized crowds, politics and entertainment have collided. Even Kanye West is paying attention to something outside of himself. People, lots of people, are watching.
According to Nielsen, 1 in 7 households tuned in to the main event. CNN commanded $200,000 for a minute commercial majority–a 4000% increase of their typical advertising rates. Speaking of which, Donald Trump does not seem like the man who would over look an opportunity, yet, in my opinion, he may have. Two weeks ago, Trump publicly released a letter to Jeff Zucker, CEO of CNN, asking him to donate these additional advertising profits to a veterans organization. At the beginning of the debate, Trump could have rallied the audience and given CNN his combative spirit if he had simply asked Jake Tapper which veteran’s organization Mr. Zucker had selected. Taking care of our veterans is an issue, yet for the first 30 or so minutes of the debate, the issues took a back seat to ratings. Jake Tapper seemed to morph from a moderator of a debate into a bystander of a grudge match. Thankfully, Governor Christie jumped in, took charge, and changed the direction of the debate–one of the shining moments of many to come from that crowded stage.
Although the debate was 3 hours, each candidate spoke less than 20 minutes. If the press and pundits are still crying for specifics on the issues, don’t blame the candidates. If this entertainment factor persists in future debates, and future debates are designed for ratings, the candidates either need to reform their messaging into twitteresque soundbytes or follow Governor’s Christie’s example and take charge.
When the debate finally turned to serious issues, one of the most powerful and chilling messages, came from Carly Fiorina as she posed a challenge to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton:
In only 1:20 Carly packed a one-two punch. She laid out her foreign policy plan for Iran and closed with her principled stand on abortion. No other candidate can pack a punch, filled with plans, details and emotion like Carly Fiorina. This skill is why she earned her position on the stage. Her face did not.
As a woman, who has written about Carly here, here and here, I have heard comments about “that face” many times–and mostly from women. Dana Perino, on The Five, commented that Carly should smile more and show some warmth. Many in the press have since said that she needs to “soften her look.” Do these political pundits have a problem with her face or her persona?
With a record-breaking 93 million people out of the workforce and 39 million of those are women, not many people are smiling. Debates are supposed to differentiate fact from fiction, establish trust, and separate principles from paparazzi. As voters, we look to be educated on the issues and where each candidate stands on those issues. This is how voters can “trust but verify.” Let us hope that future debates will focus on the issues instead of hyperbole. As Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”