The ‘Presidential Debates’ and the ongoing abuse of language
Yet another election-year ‘debate’ has some and gone, and I keep coming across talking heads* who argue for the importance of this televised debacle to the electoral process – generally saying that it gets lots of people to tune in and thus before somewhat more informed about the candidates’ positions than they would be otherwise.
*Can they be considered talking heads when they’re radio pundits?
Let’s take a look at Yahoo’s definition of the word debate (as seems ironically relevant, no insult intended to Y!):
- To consider something; deliberate.
- To engage in argument by discussing opposing points.
- To engage in a formal discussion or argument. See Synonyms at discuss.
- Obsolete To fight or quarrel.
- To deliberate on; consider.
- To dispute or argue about.
- To discuss or argue (a question, for example) formally.
- Obsolete To fight or argue for or over.
- A discussion involving opposing points; an argument.
- Deliberation; consideration: passed the motion with little debate.
- A formal contest of argumentation in which two opposing teams defend and attack a given proposition.
- Obsolete Conflict; strife.
Got that? Now, in what way was the highly publicized stump speeches by both candidates a debate? There was no thesis, no disputed points – except perhaps that idea that one candidate or the other has a better model for running the country, and it was merely serially asserted rather than argued about – and the candidates’ claims were startlingly bad, with little verification offered, usually for the very good reason that the statements were nonsense and could not be made in any mode than bald presentation.
I’ve read the Lincoln-Douglas debates. They were actual debates, not mere forums for presentation of witty zingers – and while that was certainly one of their functions, the zingers were relatively spontaneous, instead of being written by writers weeks in advanced and then focus-grouped to test for their rhetorical nip.
The word ‘debate’ is used to refer to these shoddy propaganda media opportunities merely because our presidential candidates did once debate and no one wants to draw attention to the degradation of our discourse – and because it sounds classy, of course.