The Primary Debates and Why We’re Sick of Them

Christo Toub ’22

Contributing Writer

As the third democratic debate came to a close and we begin the countdown for debate number four, I ask the American people one question: aren’t we tired of this? Haven’t we had enough of the political grandstanding and phoniness on stage? 

These democratic debates have been a microcosm for what people hate most about politics. I felt like I was perpetually eye rolling at all the platitudes and fakeness shown from candidates. These debates are filled with carefully crafted one liners being thrown out in an attempt to make bumper sticker slogans and personal attacks with little basis other than to fabricate a persona to appeal to voters. I am of course referring to Julian Castro’s attack on frontrunner Joe Biden’s. 

Part of what made this so cringeworthy was the line about Biden forgetting that he had said people would have to opt in to get Medicare-like insurance under his health care plan, was one, obviously calculated by a room of political strategists to get attention and appeal to voters in a shameless way, and two, not even true! Because of the large audience watching, it becomes about which candidate get the most noise from the crowd, not whoever has the most reasonable, realistic policy. It has descended into a popularity contest where you can win by saying outrageous and hyperbolic things. That is exactly how Trump won all the Republican debates. Candidates would say nothing phrases and offer solutions that have proven time and time again to fail. 

Our national government has proven even when you have the presidency and control congress it can still be near impossible to pass meaningful legislation that effectively solves problems. Still, the audience would erupt in cheers at these empty platitudes. I guess they still haven’t learned their lesson. Don’t just take it from me, the primary debates have been derided by candidates, reporters, and even the staff of the DNC has been on record about disliking the charade. It seems to be the only thing in politics everyone is on the same page about. Having ten people on stage with limited time to discuss issues at length leads to only partial coverage of mainstream issues. 

It encourages candidates to spout talking points and say gimmicky things for a crowd reaction, which is what a lot of people think is the most nauseating part about politics. When one of the aides preparing a leading candidate in the debates was asked if any element in the debates so far has been a good use of candidate’s time or provided worthwhile discussion, they said “absolutely not, it’s so much on the performance art of this, and we’ve lost the substantive debates we should have.” 

There needs to be a better platform debating issues but I don’t believe the current framework of the debates is effective in showcasing the merits of the candidates. I think a lot of people see through the debates as just political theater. Just look at their viewership, which is declining. It’s the grandstanding and phonyness in politics that has made Americas grow to hate it and resent their politicians. Hopefully, some candidates will try a new strategy this election cycle: transparency.