The Great Debatable Debates

Paul H. Yarbrough Freelance Writer
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Presidential debates have never been formal debates. They are political speeches with no easy method for clearing the air on mistakes — or, as likely, fabrications. The contestants drone on with offhanded campaign promises while being directed in some fashion by feckless moderators preening as if their presence marks the intellectual pinnacle of life. Afterwards, facts often are checked, and depending on the subjective degree (seldom do politicians leave a trail of objective comments) of the topic, journalists can, via written articles or as babbling cable-TV actors, decide whom of their personal favorite was most or least accurate. A winner among voters is usually declared by popular acclamation via online messaging: email, Twitter, etc. Hooray for democracy. Ben Franklin would be so happy.

In the case of the 2016 presidential debates, any trail leads into a bog not of subjectivity but of muddled thought and mendacity. One candidate, Trump, is a verbal slob and the other, Clinton is a liar. One cannot be understood and the other cannot be believed. Nevertheless, the media defends each, depending on the source, as if the debate had been between Pericles and Churchill.

In the second and third debates, Trump tried (probably on advice) to restrain himself and actually did so for the first twenty minutes or so, but finally, like an alcoholic in need of a blast, cut loose with a few strident phrases which usually are repeated over and over ad nauseum throughout the rant. Typically, his speech is cluttered with sentence fragments, invectives and would-be syllogisms which lead to something on the order of: she will be a disaster…she is so dishonest.

Mizz Clinton’s verbal skills while delivered somewhat artfully are bedded with what makes many things grow–manure. Unfortunately, she would have you believe she is growing roses when in fact her political garden is full of weeds and will always have the dandelion-in-chief, Bill prowling the female landscape. Now a millionairess, having dug herself from post presidential poverty she can promise things (I will provide jobs, I will provide health care, I will provide amnesty for anyone who will vote for Democrats, I will provide anything you want…) which neither she nor any president has the authority to do. However, she can make such claims because of a congress that is a bigger manure pile than any group of 535 people on the planet. None of the aforementioned members will ever step forward and point out that this presidential authority does not exist.

But my favorite illumination of the great debates is when, often, someone will compare modern presidential debates to the great Lincoln-Douglas debates. They (I won’t mention names) will harp on the great differences in the then and the now with no one ever pointing out Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were sparring for an Illinois Senate seat and were attempting to tune in the potential representatives to the Illinois legislature.

However, similarities do exist in the two participants. Ironically the liar, Honest Abe, has become known for his integrity (the attributed appellation was due to his dishonesty–much like “Honest John’s used cars”) and Stephen Douglas the participant whose speeches in the debates jumped from topic to topic with no clear thought apart from approval of the immediate audience drifted ultimately into relative obscurity secured with his real estate properties around Chicago. Perhaps in the future Clinton will become known as Honest Hill ( I can hear her saying: “I have a dream”). Trump, should he lose, will also drift into obscurity (once the bloom of politicking is off the rose) secure in his wealth and real estate, unless, of course, Lois learner comes out of retirement.

So once again we have been treated to the finest two minds post thirty-five-years-old in debate discussing for 140 million (or whatever jillions) voters the great questions of the day: Why do men tell dirty jokes about women? And, How the hell do you keep your emails private?

But from Kennedy-Nixon to Clinton-Trump, one thing is certain. Most people are ready to see something much better. The Indians and the Cubs in the World Series. Except, perhaps, from Los Angeles there is little debate on this.