I’m shamefaced to admit that I watched Wednesday’s Democratic nondebate. All the way through. Even some of CNN’s nonanalysis at the end.
What CNN threw at viewers was a supercilious dog-and-pony show bereft of substance.
Ten candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination were given 1 minute apiece to explain why they should carry the party’s banner against President Donald Trump in 2020. Then another minute at the end of the theatrics to sum up their candidacy.
What transpired in the two hours and 20 minutes between the book-end, one-minute soliloquies was anything but a debate. Each candidate was given 60 seconds to answer questions from moderators and 30 seconds for rebuttals and responses.
But all candidates weren’t given the same amount of time. If they mentioned another candidates by name, commented on one of their planks, or criticized them, that candidate was given 30 seconds to respond. And often the mic and face time passed back and forth between the same two candidates, giving them more exposure than other candidates.
Nothing of substance can be thus communicated. Candidates were merely giving lip service through well-practiced sound bites.
The entire program was designed to elicit and highlight conflict, rather than to inform or educate.
It is a violation of journalistic ethics for a journalist – in this instance, a broadcaster – to moderate a “debate.” And for good reason. Broadcasters thrive and live on conflict. In the good-ol’-days, the League of Women Voters sponsored presidential candidate debates.
But in 1988, then league President Nancy M. Neuman dropped sponsorship, saying: “ … the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.”
“It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions,” Neuman said. “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
One of the issues that caused the League to drop sponsorship was the Republican and Democratic parties insisted on manipulating the rules of the debates. They’re still at it.
Broadcast networks obviously have no compunctions against hoodwinking or bamboozling voters.
Debate rules should be drawn by sponsors. If politicians don’t like the rules, they can and should refuse to participate.
I agree that our nation faces a dire political crisis. The very future of our democracy hangs in the balance.
But the crisis isn’t President Donald Trump.
President Trump only represents a disease caused by very virulent, pathological organisms in our political culture and body politic. The pathogens infect the news media, especially broadcast media, and citizens – both voters and nonvoters.
We have Republicans sullying themselves to support the most corrupt president in United States history, and that’s saying a lot. They support President Trump even though he has illegally obstructed justice on several occasions.
This is the very crime that caused the Republican leaders to tell President Richard Nixon to resign or be impeached. Nixon resigned.
And then we have 20 candidates for the Democratic nomination for the “honor” of being defeated by President Trump in 2020.
Instead of establishing themselves as crusaders against a president who has made a world laughing stock of our nation, they spend precious time beating each other up in vainglorious attempts to be the standard bearer.
Terence L. Day is a retired Washington State University faculty member. In his newspaper career before joining the WSU faculty, he covered politics in Utah during the 1968 Presidential election. He encourages email comment to email@example.com