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.