Dumbed down debates turn voters off [Letter]

June 19, 2014

Commentators Richard Vatz and Lee S. Weinberg argue that political debates improve when they feature sound-bite answers (90 seconds maximum) and neutral moderators who don't point out when candidates make factually inaccurate statements ("A better debate," June 15).

Both these suggestions are a disservice to democracy. Such debates create consumerist politics rather than involvement; ideology rather than deliberation.

The authors mention one of the Obama vs. Romney debates in which Mr. Romney made a factually false statement about Mr. Obama, then insisted he was correct when Mr. Obama protested. How would the average voter watching this debate have been able to discern the truth without the moderator's intervention?

I follow debates both here and in Europe, and just last fall I sat through 15 unscripted debates between the six major Austrian candidates. There was no requirement for a 90-second response to a complex question. Candidates could engage with each other in a back-and-forth. The moderator posed initial questions on a range of topics and actively challenged all misrepresentations.

Clearly, this format requires an engaged electorate willing to listen and be challenged. But that is what democracy is about. Feeding the American voters ever shorter, ever more scripted and ever less critical political discourse is a recipe for the decline of our democracy, not better debate.

Thomas Jandl, Washington

The writer is a scholar in residence at the American University School of International Service.

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