Three cheers for the presidential debaters
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO–I was delighted with the first debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Not because I think the debate held at the University of Denver on Wednesday evening, Oct. 3, will determine the outcome of the presidential election, but rather because I believe it set a good example for civility in political dialogue.
Governor Romney started off with congratulations to President and Michelle Obama on their wedding anniversary, noting that the upcoming debate with him probably was not the Obamas’ idea of a romantic way to spend the occasion. This produced smiles all the way around, and, I believe, eliminated some of the tension surrounding the event.
I also give Romney high marks for calling President Obama “Mr. President,” throughout the debate, showing that one can respect the occupant of the nation’s highest office and still disagree with him. For his part, the President also treated his opponent with respect, calling him “Governor Romney” throughout the encounter.
These courtesies signaled that these two men would be exploring their differences, but without rancor. And, for the most part, that is what happened for the 90-minute length of the debate. The president and the governor vigorously defended their proposals and records, while determinedly pointing out what they considered to be the weaknesses in their opponents’ proposals.
The important fact for me was that Messrs. Obama and Romney confined their criticism to each other’s ideas or proposals, and did not attack each other personally. This was a service to us television viewers, who thereby had the opportunity to gain some intellectual insight into how the president and the governor approach problems that have impacts on our lives.
Contrast the debate with all the attack commercials on television, particularly in some of our local San Diego races for Congress and mayor. The thrust of many of those commercials is Candidate A implies that Candidate B is a thief or a liar or both. In such situations, voters are required to choose between two objectionable alternatives, having little enthusiasm for either one.
In the debate, each candidate took the tack that while the opponent’s ideas were well intentioned, they were misguided. Each candidate tried to explain why his idea would be more likely to solve the problem under consideration. By taking this approach, the candidates invited us to choose between two attractive alternatives.
What a difference in tone and mood! The debates inspire voter confidence, the commercials destroy them.
I watched a replay of the presidential debate on CNN and was fascinated by the reactions of “undecided” voters in Colorado to the two candidates as they were debating. According to the running graphic, women seemed to favor President Obama, while men seemed to favor Gov. Romney. But what I thought was even more interesting was that both genders seemed to respond more favorably to the candidates when they were describing their own proposals, or visions, as opposed to when they were criticizing the proposals of the other.
I sensed that this means that voters are tired of discord and are looking for people who can promote respectful consensus.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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