The Clare Spark Blog

December 21, 2015

“Debates” as pseudo-events with pseudo-moderators

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

gladiatorsI find the recent debates in both parties infuriating. Why are they called debates, when they are nothing but pseudo-events and have nothing to do with the traditional meaning of a debate, which is a disciplined, precise, and detailed back and forth on a narrowly focused policy topic?

In US history, the debates between opposing individuals running for office, or, earlier, ratification of the Constitution, were (at times) occasions for public education, as were religious sermons in colonial New England. But in the age of the Great Dumbing Down, these much commented-upon current circuses/boxing matches offer nothing new to cogitate upon, or even to refine the details of a proposed social policy.

Nor are these “debates” even competently moderated. The candidates interrupt each other and take charge of the discourse, the bloodier the better. One might compare our political debates with gladiatorial combat, often egged on by “moderators” with an agenda more directed to obfuscation, the drawing of blood, and slogans than to public enlightenment. Is anyone paying attention to the time limits, supposedly agreed upon by the participants? To me, as observer, this creates anxiety, as the press (including cable  news) elevate these performances as some kind of revelation of character, and as examples of rational discourse in the interest of public appreciation of the fine points of public policy. Who are the performers—candidates and moderators are all acting.

No wonder many Americans are disgusted by political and media establishments, and are mobbishly attracted to populist demagogues. Those social theorists who have deplored the rise of the “spectacle” are correct. (

Thumbs down on our contemporary political combat.






  1. For me, the fact that national political debates, especially between and among our 535 members of Congress, are brainless pseudo-events (designed largely to whip up ideological fervor among hard core voters) simply underscores the fact that our voters are practicing democracy incompetently — in the same way a doctor practices medicine either competently or incompetently) — because they do not know how to “practice” democracy competently.

    Addressing that Achilles heal in all modern era representative democracies, but especially in the U.S., will require the creation of an entire new category of knowledge in political science which explores different models of self-governance and the theories upon which those models are based.

    “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done” Unknown

    Once both political scientists and voters alike understand that there is more than one model which can be used by voters to “practice” democracy (when electing their members of Congress) — and that the model we have always used: the Political/Ideological Model, is an ignorance-based model, it will hopefully be only a matter of time before voters abandon it for its knowledge-based counterpart: the Apolitical/Non-Ideological Model.

    Comment by Montie Rainey (@MontieRainey) — January 10, 2016 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

    • There is no escape from politics and ideology. Are you an anarchist?

      Comment by clarelspark — January 10, 2016 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  2. […] go in meeting up with his thoroughgoing classical liberalism. For instance, in the “debates” (, no moderators or candidates are taking up the necessity for school choice, or, for that matter, […]

    Pingback by Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962) | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 29, 2015 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

  3. The modern Presdential debates are derived from the format worked out for the Kennedy-Nixon debate broadcasts from the 1960 election, sponsored, as I recall, by the League of Women Voters, a liberal group dedicated to the education of enfranchised women. This was a break from the rousing “stump speeches” that prior candidates gave on the back of trains and airport tarmacs.

    As it was, this first televised debate was a “dumbing down” of the classic Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1860. In that ur-debate, Lincoln and Douglas were allowed to give long speeches without interruption. Lincoln had the opportunity to make a profound and persuasive moral appeal. Their orations were long, passionate, and literate.

    Can we, or should we, go back to a system of non-campaigning and allow conventions to conduct candidate nominations in a “smoke-filled room”? One gets the feeling that modern Presidential campaigns are more along the line of job applications for future cabinet positions.

    Comment by stereorealist — December 23, 2015 @ 1:06 pm | Reply

    • The choice is not between smoke filled rooms and the current formats, which reflect the sorry state of our political culture.

      Comment by clarelspark — December 23, 2015 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

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