Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't expect any debates in the Seventh District

Debates have a long and cherished history in American politics, dating back to the beginnings of this country.

History books, (at least those that have not been watered down with political correctness) note the debates that shaped our country as it broke with England, the debates among Congressional giants such as Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Henry Clay over the great issues of the early 19th Century, and the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

That type of spirited discussion of issues, often between candidates for elective office, is a thing of the past. Today's so-called debates are usually forums, in which moderators enforce rules, agreed upon in advance by the candidates, that are designed to prevent candidates from being able to break through their opponents' talking points and get down to their depth of knowledge and what they truly believe.

These forums have value. If a candidate is unable to cope with the pressure and is prone to misspeak, often those traits are clearly evident. At times, basic differences between candidates are revealed. But there is nothing that resembles a true debate.

That is why I have enjoyed the flareup over the past couple of weeks over proposed "debates" between the candidates for Seventh District Congress, Republican Billy Long and Democrat Scott Eckersley.

Eckersley proposed debates at each of the county courthouses in the Seventh District. The Joplin Globe and other media outlets say Long agreed to these debates, but the Long camp is now saying that it didn't, but is seeking other "debate" venues that are more accessible to the public.

My favorite part of the ongoing discussion came when it was noted that Long had participated in 10 debates, three of which included Eckersley.

Again, those were not debates.

Consider the one held at Missouri Southern State University in July. The Joplin Globe did the best possible job under the circumstances and had a far better forum than one that was held the previous evening in Springfield. The Globe reporters, as well as a questioner representing the community, asked pertinent questions, and the format allowed follow-up questions, something that served to enlighten those who were in the audience of watching the forum on television.

But when Billy Long refers to this as a debate and indicates that Seventh District voters have had ample opportunity to know exactly how he stands on the issues, he is ignoring some basic truths.

Take the Globe forum, for example. It lasted 90 minutes, certainly long enough for a good forum, or even for a true debate, but not with 10 candidates involved. Divide 90 minutes by 10 and you have nine minutes per candidate, nowhere near enough time for a voter to learn enough to make an informed decision.

That being said, the candidates did not receive even the nine minutes. Remember that the time also included introductions, a brief wrap up at the conclusion of the event, and various thank-yous from the candidates. At best, each candidate had six minutes to get across his message.

When the questioning is divided into categories of vital importance to voters, including the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care, and education, no candidate had a chance to speak for more than a minute, or a minute and a half at the most, on any issue.

That left just enough time for talking points and slogans. By the time Billy Long had mentioned how fed up he was, or by the time Scott Eckersley told us how he had stood up for the public in his battle with the Blunt administration, it was time for the next candidate to speak.

The forums can tell us something about how candidates perform under pressure, though even that is difficult when the time is divided among 10 contenders, but they tell us little or nothing about their beliefs or how they will vote on issues that are of paramount concern to voters.

No debates will take place this fall in the Seventh Congressional District. A few decent forums would be nice.


Anonymous said...

Why should Long draw a crowd for Eckersley?

Anonymous said...

Forums, debates or whatever.

Scooter Eck better hope that he does not have to debate and defend this Democrat led Congress and Obama led Administration.

Who would he caucus with? Himself?

Anonymous said...

By not having debates, I am tempted to not vote for anyone if they are unable to publicly inform me.

Stop being afraid of having debates! Sure the Republicans do not like their candidate choice and sure the Democrats don't know a thing about Eckersley...but that is what debates are for! To inform me on a personal level rather than through commericals or internet.

Anonymous said...

I believe 17 forums were conducted, several of them included all candidates representing multparties.

Did you take the time to go to even one?

I doubt it.

And, don't vote. That'll show'em.

Anonymous said...

1. Forums or debates prior to the primary don't count. The intent of "who am I trying to beat" is totally different.

2. Issues of things already done in DC in the past are not relevant for me. I want to know what the future holds. I want to know how the person intends to communicate with me. I want to know their big money connections. I want to know if they will listen to my opinions and reply. I want to know if their important Issues are the same as mine.

3. Looking at their web sites, Long seems to have made no efforts since the primary - no calendar of events - "All events are currently over". ?Resting on the Republican laurels??? Eckersley at least tells us where he's going and when and making updates on his campaign site. Is this a sign of how they will treat, communicate with, us if elected?

4. I would like for their site administrators to review each list of "issues" on their sites and add the issues from the other candidates site that they have not addressed.

Anonymous said...

When Long won the Repub primary he had no further need to debate anything. Long will cruise on to a win in November.

Get used to it. The Republicans have convinced to brain-dead nitwits in this district that the Republicans stand for small government.

Want to do something -- undercut Roy Blunt in this district and he will lose to Carnahan in November.