Town Hall Debate Format Encapsulates the Decline and Fall of Democracy

The difference between “town halls” and “town hall debates” is that people who go to town hall meetings are informed and motivated.

So I don’t like this town hall debate format. From a debate perspective, the town hall plays to superficiality — encouraging more questions over depth — incentivizes cheap “I feel your pain” pandering over real answers, and historically banishes the moderator from playing a key role in advancing the debate.

But those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that the town hall format represents the erosion of civic virtue. It is the distillation of the dangerous celebration of the undecided voter. The audience is limited to undecided voters — and undecided voters are all well and good in June, but a couple weeks before the election? — and the questions are submitted only by undecided voters. This debate format exalts the idea that those individuals should not just decide the election but should decide the entire thrust of American political discourse. I do not fault undecided voters their vote, but the idea that 1/3 of the direct national debate over the executive leadership of the most powerful nation on the planet should be directed by low-information undecided voters is a disgrace.

Our mission as a country should be creating a national discourse that eradicates the “low-information” trait, not uncritically turning the keys to the van over to that mentality.

Last night I added another problem with the town hall format — it engenders a mob-like anarchy among the candidates. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama got in each others’ faces and spewed bile. It was entertaining, but it is the mentality of the mob. The alpha male determined by confrontation. The purpose of civilization is, at least on some level, to elevate over lesser primates. If you doubt that the town hall is the antithesis of civility, note how often coverage talks about aggressive body language and the lack of respect between the candidates. Today we have headlines that celebrate the “feisty” nature of the debate as though it’s an episode Jerry Springer.

I don’t encourage a Pollyanna-ish political discourse, but by putting together a debate format that allows the two candidates to nearly come to blows unchecked, we are failing. By the way, to all the debate people saying, “golly we need to get rid of moderators and let the candidates just fight,” this gives you some insight into the shitshow that would invite.

It was certainly fun though. But we must stop defining political virtue as something so entertaining that it can appeal to the basest instincts of American society.

8 comments for “Town Hall Debate Format Encapsulates the Decline and Fall of Democracy

  1. October 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    “But those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that the town hall format represents the erosion of civic virtue.”

    My objection stems from your use of “erosion.” I’m not convinced that there was ever a golden age of civic virtue from which we’ve devolved. Just off the top of my head, the elections of 1828 and 1840 were textbook examples of what you call “mob-like anarchy.”

    Anyway, you’re right about the town hall style. But the other formats aren’t inspiring either. As far as the undecideds go — if they’re deciding between Obama and Romney, they’re dummies. But, voting from Oregon, I’ve been toying with the idea of voting for a third party. Regardless of how I vote, I don’t think I could be classified as a low information voter.

    • JPoet
      October 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      “if they’re deciding between Obama and Romney, they’re dummies.”

      Why because most partisans are religious and your always a dummy to a Christian if you deny Christ? I would applaud undecided they are the only people with open minds.

      • October 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

        No. What I was trying to say is that there is plenty of information out there, from Obama, Romney, and other sources. Research is all that’s required, not a town hall debate.

        “Why because most partisans are religious and your always a dummy to a Christian if you deny Christ?”

        Well, I don’t know if most partisans are religious. But I don’t see how this has anything to do with my comment.

        I take someone with an “open mind” as someone who is willing to acknowledge and entertain ideas at odds with their preconceived notions. It seems to me that the undecideds don’t have any notions, let alone preconceived ones.

        • JPoet
          October 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm

          Neither of these idiots pass muster on finance, economics or science. Romney spoke eloquently about Dodd Frank while Obama sat like a school boy who not doing his homework was lost (debate one). IMHO biden was embarrassing Unprofessional with that mocking. You mock me in a bar discussion I’ll slug you, i expect more from my VP. So busy laughing he couldn’t even answer with numbers Ryan’s comments. I support social sec as is but I also know that under Obama it has not kept up with inflation. Medicare is not taken by many doctors so objectively while I am
          Against any privatization I now after hearing Ryan am wondering if I’m wrong and there is an overhaul needed. Also after the gigantic financial fiasco Obama did nothing to fund the PBGC. With pensions failing CEOs prospering the pensions don’t get a little cost of living guarantee, what would that cost Corps considering the few pensions left.

          Do I have notions very specific ones, detailed ideas based only education in science finance and economics. I know all about the lies the flip flopping and how scary that damn tea party is.

          But as an educated persOn Many years working in finance i will tell you These two men are both idiots.

          Still no one has convinced me even after a year of watching the shit show who is better sorry accept it I am not stupid I am just not religious that means I don’t vote on party lines.

          I am probably the most opinionated person you’ll ever meet and I am still undecided.

  2. JPoet
    October 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Not sure I agree, to me I saw for the first time real blunt questions. “what is your stand on this”. This was by far the debate that provided me with the best view, had I been in a hole the last 12 months, of the candidates stances. My oppionion you will see a marked rise by the weekend in Obama’s standing.

    • Joe Patrice
      October 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

      I will fully concede that the quality of most of the questions exceeded my expectations. And I think there is a +2 bump for Obama by Friday. That should solidify Ohio

  3. Joe Patrice
    October 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    I don’t think third party voters are low information. While I may disagree I generally think they are overly high information voters for looking outside the two main candidates.

    I agree there wasn’t a real golden age of civic virtue but the conventional wisdom of the country used to praise those who knew the issues and now praise those who haven’t figured out the issues.

    • October 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      Overly high? Lordy.

      That’s right. Some people are just too educated.

      You know full well for whom I’d be voting were I living in Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, etc.

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