Lincoln and Douglas: Long Gone Master Debaters
When one makes an attempt to watch the presidential debates of today it is almost as if they fall right in line with the litany of reality shows and game shows that plague the airwaves. It is clear now that the “selling” of a candidate has risen over the importance of the issues talked about. I am not entirely sure of all of the causes for the deterioration of our presidential debates but one that i am sure of is the media.
In 1858 senatorial candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas made an agreement to have a series of seven debates. These debates are entirely different than what you will find now. The candidates were not merely trying to impress, they were trying to display their respective ability to share ideas with the public. The debates did get wide ranging attention from the entire nation, but it was mostly newspapers and word of mouth that spread the news. For this reason many people had to actually sit down and read the transcripts to be informed. Although today this option still exists, television has reinvented the world of debate. Now that candidates are able to reach much wider audiences their answers must be easy to recall and easy for the audience to remember. These dumbed down debates are achieving their goal of reaching mass voters but at the same time they are misinforming them by presenting generic personalities and facades in an attempt to gather as many votes as possible.
Since these debates have become more entertainment than a useful tool of government it accomplishes more negative than positive. The voters that are informed do not take them seriously and the uninformed do, so it becomes a battle of numbers instead of knowledge.