Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transforming a "Debate" Into "Not a Debate"

"Escaping the surly bonds of .... actually debating."
Just do whatever you like. The cameras are running.
[This will get things started. Colbert and the Ghost of Lincoln LATE SHOW]

Obscured behind decades of "retrofitted definitions," we Americans have completely abandoned the actual meaning of "a debate" in favor of something else which bears painfully little resemblance to the real thing. This has now gone on long enough that most of us sincerely question even the proposition that there is, actually, such a ting as a debate.

We like the insinuation accompanying the word far more than anything actually associated with the process. In the fantasy version two adversaries blather about for a few minutes, making points, making mistakes and revealing the deepest, most fundamental qualities of themselves. 

So, if we're all frozen in front of our televisions while shopping for a new President, what could possibly be better than that?

Lincoln Douglas Debates
 - 1858
We seem to be enthralled with the frantically wishful, although embarrassingly cloudy, expectation that one of these modern "speech fests" is really going to show us what we  really need to know about these candidates. By "debate" time we have heard just about everything that either candidate hopes might persuade us to change our minds or reinforce our previous decision. The voices on the stage will almost certainly not be saying anything appreciably different from what each one has already said before. Too risky.

The perennial problem arises from the fact that each of these candidates secretly presumes that the voters don't trust them much. Of course this uncomfortable presumption on the candidates' part turns out to be quite well founded.

Just A Wee Bit About "Debates"

The idea of a debate has a very specific definition. What was touted as a "debate" between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was far -- very far -- removed from anything particularly similar to a debate.

In order to "flesh this out" just a little, we'll need to use the MeanMesa Time Machine. Relax. A journey in this ultra modern device will seem just like a few minutes sitting in your easy chair. We'll have to set the target date in the 1950's, decades ago, when MeanMesa was a mere sprout sitting in what was, at the time, called a "speech class" in a mid-western, public, junior high school.

In the 1950's everyone in junior high was required to be enrolled in one of these "speech classes."

Well, one of the items taught in these "speech classes" was debate. The definition of what was meant by a debate and the instructions concerning how one was to be conducted were carefully presented to the attending students.

The basic idea was fairly simple. The teacher would provide a list of possible topics to be debated. Each of these would be presented as an argument -- a proposition. Examples of such debate topics, if taught in more modern times, might be something like these:

  • The United States should use its military to remove Syrian dictator Assad from power.
  • A federal law should make every buyer submit to a back ground check before purchasing a fire arm.
  • The electoral college should be abandoned in favor of simple majority elections.

The class members would be divided into pairs, and each pair would select a topic from this list. At this time the teacher of this "speech class" would assign "supporting" and "opposing" sides of the up coming debate to each member of the debate pair. It didn't matter if this assignment went directly against the personal sentiments of the young debater receiving the assignment. The task was to take the assigned position, argue its advantages and benefits and defend it from the counter argument presenting by the other debater.

Naturally, the "structure" of the debate was established as soon as the participants had been selected. There would be a strict time schedule for opening statements, counter arguments and the subsequent responses. When these allocated time periods had been consumed, each of these parts ended. An unfinished thought or an incomplete rebuttal were cause for a serious impact on one's grade.

Part of this "debate assignment" would be to research every possible side of the chosen question. Each debater was to be graded on how well prepared he or she was when the debate was held. Additionally, an important part of this research was to retrieve some information which could be presented during the debate in a way which might catch one's opponent "off guard," signifying, of course, that this preparation was inadequate.

To "win" the debate in this "speech class" a young debater needed to accomplish two important things. Of course, a good grade was still quite possible when a debater did not prevail [win the debate] as long as even the losing debater did a good job.

First, the presentation of this particular side of the debate argument had to be persuasive. The other members of the class served as the audience. Following the debate the teacher would poll these class members to see if the presentations during the debate had persuaded them to adopt a changed position on the debate topic or, one the other hand, had reinforced their previous stance on the question.

Second, the teacher would grade each participant's conduct of the debate. Were positions presented clearly? Did the debaters fumble when suddenly confronted by an unexpected fact from the opposing side? Was the research done sufficiently?

The stated goals of these debate assignments were obvious. Students were to be taught to be "quick on their feet," well organized, focused on the question, able to competently respond to counter arguments and fluent in their presentation.

It may be no more than one of MeanMesa's "senior moments," but it truly seems that the students who had received this "debate" education became noticeably better with their communication skills.

Why What Went On at Hofstra University
 Was Not a Debate

A quick review of the debate process as it was taught all those decades back immediately reveals the fundamental differences between a "traditional debate" and the Presidential Debate which just occurred between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump. 

The "debate moderator" was not posing debate topic style arguments. Instead, each of the "topics" amounted to little more than an invitation to deliver an unchallenged political speech. In fact, these "topics" were painfully over generalized. Each one of them seemed to be intentionally inciting the debate participants to revert to talking points already presented in the respective primary campaigns. 

The repeated failure of candidates to quit speaking when the debate's scheduled time allotment had been consumed -- and the repeated failure of the debate moderator to insist that this discipline was to be followed -- further disrupted the intense focus the junior high teacher would have demanded. The result was a confused, "folksy, tit for tat, chit chat" atmosphere which failed to illuminate the candidates' most important differences.

This "non-debate" behavior was painfully obvious in Mr. Trump's continued interruptions during periods allotted for Ms. Clinton's responses to his last "fact free" ranting.

This troubling "informality" eliminated the possibility of the debaters' successfully refuting untruths. Surely, at least Ms. Clinton must have prepared herself for this obligation. In the end factual refutations meant nothing. It became a "cat fight" -- precisely what Mr. Trump desperately needed, but also precisely not what the American electorate needed.

MeanMesa could not even watch more than a few minutes of the disaster. It seems that the thing's disclaimer should read:

"No ideas or false assertions were harmed in any way during the preparation of this prime time presentation."

MeanMesa shudders to think that 80 million human beings wasted ninety minutes watching this. That unsettling fact approaches the definition of a "war crime."

The "Missing Topics"
Darn. Do there have to be "found" topics first?

The "topic selection" announced a week prior to the "debate" would never have "met the test" in that old junior high school class. As mentioned before, these did not qualify as debate topics. These were craven invitations to effortlessly disgorge talking points and generalities and evoke more of the "cat fight" comments voters were already quite tired of hearing.

Here is the press release which was intended to offer the debaters "an opportunity to prepare" for Lester Holt's "piercing and insightful debate topics." [Visit the site  here.] Heh, heh. MeanMesa supposes that this "preparation" was, indeed, grueling. This is at best infuriating if not out rightly treasonous.

Commission on Presidential Debates
Moderator Announces Topics for First Presidential Debate
Sep 19, 2016

Lester Holt, moderator of the first 2016 presidential debate, has selected the topics for that debate.

Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics for the September 26 debate are as follows, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:

America's Direction
Achieving Prosperity
Securing America

Now, the official story line here is that "hard driving, tough reporting" Lester Holt conducted a very long, arduous, ruthless search of all the possible "debate topics" existing in the entire universe in order to come up with these three. This must have been an exhausting effort, indeed -- after all, it was a dire case of "slim pickin's" right from the get go, right?

About the closest Mr. Holt came to posing an actual debate question concerned the "first use" policy for starting a nuclear attack. Even this "best effort" was reduced to the political and ideological issues of making such a decision -- an irritating collapse into essentially a "yes or no" question..

To drive this beleaguered lament home to the blog's visitors, MeanMesa has prepared a few, sample debate topics which might have had some relevance to the idea and which might have actually revealed some material differences between the candidates who were debating.

The United States should deploy THADD anti-ballistic missiles to protect Seoul from the nuclear lunatic they sponsor in the North. 
Russia and China are both warning that this deployment will be considered a reduction in the deferment credibility of their existing strategic thermonuclear arsenals.

The US and its Asian allies should force China to abandon the military bases the PRC has been building on fake islands in the Indian Ocean. 
The US Navy has currently deployed roughly 60% of its fleet of war ships to the seas around China. The Chinese are deploying the China Navy in the same place to protect the new islands they have built there.

The US should send ground troops back into Iraq. 
The government of Iraq has suggested that additional US ground forces will be required to retake Mosul from ISIL. Most of the captured city is now intensely booby trapped.

The United States should spend roughly $3 trillion tax dollars to bring domestic infrastructure back to a serviceable condition. 
This includes fixing Flint's water and building levees to protect Cedar Rapids which just flooded again, but lots, lots more.

Of course there are literally dozens of additional topics such as these. But none of these were even so much as mentioned in the "debate." Did someone in charge conclude that American voters weren't interested in hearing what these candidates thought about these topics?

How We Discern Truth in What We Hear

Americans have adopted a very unlikely method of discerning truthful discourse in televised talk shows. Not long ago US networks apparently felt "duty bound" to broadcast an easily forgettable "news" show called the McLaughlin Group.

The broadcast content of this particular show was somewhat unique. During the broadcast the "members" of the McLaughlin Group would argue about contemporary events. When MeanMesa uses the term "argue," it may well be an understatement. Now that similar behavior has become the daily fare offered by the FOX Network, the phenomenon is no longer so shocking. 

The "discussion" would become heated to the degree that continuing to watch any particular episode quickly became the equivalent of televised self-flagellation. Well before the show ended, this arguing and yelling had become very loud and much more personal that one might expect from traditional discourse.

MeanMesa always wondered what there was about such a show which might make it so popular.

However, after considering this question for a time MeanMesa reached an interesting conclusion.

Viewers of the yelling members appearing on the McLaughlin Group were interpreting the emotional chaos of the show as evidence that the members were so emotionally engaged that they were unable to lie while expressing their opinions so vehemently.

This idea clearly "caught on" with the broadcast "designers" at FOX. Now, many media consumers specifically reserve "granting belief" to what they encounter on television to speakers with this same vehement tone.

There it is. A complete explanation of Donald Trump's voters.

No comments:

Post a Comment