Democracy In Action: The Significance Of Presidential Debates
The political system in America has a lot of interesting traditions and systems built into its very foundation. From the separation of powers, where the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches have their own responsibilities, to the various checks and balances that ensure no single branch can become too powerful, there is a good balance in place that can be observed.
This balance is evident in the way that while the President can veto a bill passed by Congress, the veto can be nullified if two-thirds of Congress vote against it.
The Bill of Rights is also something beautiful that protects the liberty of individuals and limits the power of the Government over the people. In addition to these and other systems that form the foundation of the American government, the concept of Presidential Debates is a tradition that has stood the test of time and still occurs to this day.
In this article, we will explore why such debates are significant for our Democracy.
A Brief Look at the History of Political Debate in Early America
The first official debate occurred in the 1960s between nominees John. F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It was the first debate that was moderated and televised to the American public and one that has been widely studied and analyzed.
However, it would be wrong to assume that this was the first time that presidential candidates had debated each other. This practice dates back quite some time, and many of the presidential debates in American history have been significant in shaping public opinion on a variety of issues.
Many of the early debates were between important senators, and one such instance was the Webster-Hayne debate, a famous exchange that took place in 1830 between Senators Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Robert Hayne of South Carolina. It was one of the many key discussions that occurred in the build-up to the American Civil War of 1861.
On a side note, if you are someone who wishes to learn more about this particular time period, the website “roadtothecivilwar.org” has a lot of information about the politics and history that led up to the conflict. Their expansive catalog of rare photos and accounts can be worth perusing.
Hayne’s position defended the role of individual states having the power to nullify federal laws that the state might deem unconstitutional. Webster, on the other hand, supported the power of the federal government and the union.
Another key debate that occurred in 1858, a few years before the Civil War, was between presidential nominees Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
It focused on the major issue of slavery and was widely covered by the press at the time. The debate would influence public opinion on slavery and is believed to have contributed significantly to Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential elections.
Why Are Presidential Debates Important And Do We Still Need Them?
The performance of nominees in presidential debates is believed by many to affect election results. It isn’t tough to understand why this might be the case. Debates give the American people the chance to see the candidates present and defend their views and beliefs while also tackling challenging questions.
Many debates also take pre-screened questions from the audience, and the manner in which a nominee responds to such questions can be crucial. Take the 1992 town hall debate between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot, for instance. It is widely believed that Clinton was able to win the debate due to the way he responded with empathy to a tough question asked by a citizen.
Presidential debates promote transparency and show the public that their elected leaders are capable of rising up to the challenges that come with being the leader of the free world.
However, some believe that the entire concept of presidential debates should be scrapped due to being too much of a theater show and lacking the impact and meaningfulness that it once had.
Others argue that debates only further divide the public and polarize people rather than help unify the country. The “us vs. them” mentality is something that can definitely be dangerous, considering the country’s turbulent history.
Limited response times for each candidate and potential bias from the media and moderators are also key factors that undermine the sanctity of a presidential debate. It also begs the question of the need for moderators considering the Lincoln – Douglas debates were conducted with no moderator.
There are a number of questions that are worth asking when it comes to the importance and necessity of presidential debates. Are they a hallowed tradition of America that ought to be preserved at all costs? Do such debates still serve a purpose in today’s world, and if so, what?
Regardless of what you might feel is the correct answer, presidential debates have played a crucial role in shaping the political landscape, and the decision to either continue, improve or totally scrap them needs to be made with a great deal of thought.