Demeaned, Dethroned Debate

I did not watch the dueling governors, Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom, last week. Reports tell me that millions of Americans did do so, but I have yet to come across any of them. Like me, those people I’ve asked watched a few opening minutes or caught a highlight reel the next day. But watch the entire debate – no. Granted, this was an unusual pitting of two men who are not technically running against each other for any office, but the disparity in the way they are running their states should, in theory, make a debate between them fascinating. Clearly, I am not the only one who wasn’t expecting it to be so.

In fact, when I thought of what would be a “win” for Governor DeSantis, I was reduced to thinking of verbal zingers and aggressive pushbacks. This strikes me as realistic, but terribly sad. Great political debates used to be substantive. The historic Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debates were multi-hour events, with each candidate speaking for an hour at a time, followed by a 90-minute rebuttal and a final 30-minute rejoinder by the initial speaker. In the pre-microphone and pre-camera years of the 1850s, talking over each other was non-existent, and any faces either candidate made would have been seen only by the few dozen people closest to the platform. Instead, visions needed to be presented, unpacked, and supported.


One of the greatnesses of the United States was the various ‘laboratories of democracy.’ A variety of proposals and laws could be implemented and if different results were achieved, everyone could learn from a detailed analysis. Florida and California, both warm-weather states, should provide feedback as to the efficacy of policies ranging from taxation to policing to education. Instead, we are reduced to examining the most surface qualities of each governor, as if they were WWF wrestling opponents rather than men who greatly affect the quality of life of millions of citizens.

Of course, today this is true for presidential debates as well. Candidates’ experience, thoughts, and principles barely make it on stage. Greatness is possibly a drawback rather than an asset. We can bemoan the pathetic stature of many of the characters who roam the halls of Congress, yet the system can only produce more of them. The demeaning of debate is only one of the flaws in the system, but it is a noteworthy one.

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Tehila Katabi, age 31, murdered on October 7, 2023.

With prayers for the release of all the hostages and among them, Nimrod Cohen, age 19.


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