Whatever, it was not debate!
With a little hindsight and reflection it’s clear voters were shortchanged in the first presidential debate staged by Fox News.
Our tradition of political disputation goes back to The Founders when major differences arose between those favoring a stronger federal government and those holding out for personal freedom through decentralization. Unfortunately, the former group of aristocrats, as they all were, were burdened with mercantilism including slave and drug trading. [Yale University was originally endowed with an opium cargo shipped from India to China, in the early days of that nefarious trade.] Strangely contradictorily, the strongest advocates of personal freedom were either slaveholders or natives of the slavery states.
Personal debate among the contenders for the highest office in the land reached something of a zenith with the 1858 debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. They were issues that had been avoided for a half century, setting out the arguments which were to bring on The Civil War a few years later. The recent performance had little to do with that kind of confrontation, a personal contention between two candidates for high office delineating their different political approaches. Instead we got a group of fairly mediocre journalists holding a press conference in which they controlled the discussion of issues. The quintessential sendoff was Megyn Kelly, now the Queen of Gotacha journalism – the art of trapping an interviewee into a misspoken quotation that can be contested for days if not weeks.
Rising to her bait was Donald Trump, a candidate from nowhere for the presidency who has managed to fire the imagination of the disaffected Republican Party.conservative base, so long disaffected from its Eastern Establishment leadership. Trump, who in a short lifetime has been all over the political spectrum on every issue, fulminated and provided media fodder for those whose worldview halts somewhere around the firsdt items of the vening cable/network news.
Instead of trying to figure out a way to line up the gaggle of Republican contenders in personal encounters – for example, a pyramid of one-on-one confrontations – we got the spectacle of the media leading the arguments. It’s no wonder that Ms. Kelly fell into the trap of using a Democratic Party political ploy, the supposed Republican/conservative war on women, and dragged Trump in after her. The only semblance of debate, and it was largely a screaming incoherence, was when the bullying New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the self-anointed libertarian Sen. Rand Paul went at each other over security versus individual rights.
We will get another extravaganza shortly arranged by CNN, not likely to be more informative, and with that network’s increasing faux-Brutishness [replete with strange looking and marbled-mouth anchors] and its anti-Americanism, it won’t be better.
One would have hoped that the Republicans, at least, had learned their lesson the last time around when they entrusted their fate to the media and were saddled with anti-conservative moderators who actually directly threw in their 2 cents. But that was not to be. With the presumptive – although perhaps crumbling – Democratic nominee for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton, determined to keep herself aloof from any contact with the unscheduled hoi polloi, and any real discussion of issues, and the “me tooism” of the Republican candidates for the nomination mainly trying not to make a misstep, the outlook for real debate is bleak.
But we remain optimistic that somewhere, somehow the American people will find a way for their candidates for public office to discuss the basic issues, not the least is the Obama Administration’s efforts at “transformation”, e.g.. turning traditional policies on their head for uncharted adventures, particularly in foreign policy, and giving the accusation of “imperial presidency” on domestic issues new meaning.