Debate Forum 3/1/16

DENMARK - APRIL 19:  Photo of Janis JOPLIN; Janis Joplin, posed, smoking cigarette  (Photo by Jan Persson/Redferns) DENMARK - APRIL 19: Photo of Janis JOPLIN; Janis Joplin, posed, smoking cigarette (Photo by Jan Persson/Redferns)

Can you hear me now?

What’s been missing from the presidential debates?

By Sarah Sidlow

It’s hard to believe there could be anything more we would want to hear from this season’s cast of presidential hopefuls. Yet, as time marches closer to party noms and then the general election, the drudgery of debates is (thankfully) drawing to a close.

We’ve heard about the business records, the voting records, the damn email records (or lack thereof).

And while quantity sure hasn’t been a problem, some voters may be left feeling a little less than satisfied with the quality of the information they’ve received from their candidates—either because the question wasn’t asked, or because it wasn’t answered.

But what’s been missing from the debate stage—other than that one time Donald Trump was fashionably absent?

Opinions abound.

The GOP has been criticized for focusing too much on terrorist threats, national security and basically anything involving enemies, with almost no talk about the things that bring nations together, like last year’s Paris Agreement, (a monumental global treaty, signed by nearly 200 nations to limit the impact of climate change).

Also conspicuously absent from the Republican side is any talk about Obamacare. That’s right: for something that had become such common political fodder, health care policy has all but disappeared from Republican talking points, save for Cruz’s usual promise to abolish it.

Still others argue the Right has largely ignored the push for women’s votes, an audience that provides more than 50 percent of votes, overlooking topics like family leave, equal pay, child care, working moms, contraception, abortion, education, etc.

And in camp Dem?

As much as the Republicans have debated foreign policy, the Democratic candidates have largely stayed away from the topic. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned a question about her views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership into a question about jobs, not of foreign policy.

Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and president of the National Action Network, chastised the party for ignoring issues like police reform and mass incarceration, while only briefly touching on the topic of criminal justice reform.

And others have cried for more on the issues of voting rights, which, like matters of policing, are of particular importance to black and Hispanic voters.

Just a handful of debates remain until the field narrows to two. From there, three presidential debates (the first of which will be held at Wright State University) and one vice presidential debate stands between the political battlefield and the Oval Office.

Start your list, America. What do you really want to hear about?

Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at

Things left unsaid

By Tim Walker

We’ve all seen the presidential candidates countless times, and we all know their names by heart at this point: Carson, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and Trump on the red state side, Clinton and Sanders on the blue. We’ve also heard them debate each other, ad nauseam—ten debates have been held on the Republican side alone. As this year’s race for the Oval Office picks up speed, with the two major parties’ conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia only four months away, you might think that by now the candidates would have talked to death every single major issue facing this country.

If so, you would be incorrect.

As the struggle for the nomination becomes more desperate, and as the level of discourse on the national stage devolves into mud-slinging, catch phrases and personal attacks, major issues which affect our nation’s citizens are being … well, ignored. We’ve all heard Marco Rubio discussing Donald Trump’s hiring of illegal immigrants on various construction projects, and how Trump once licensed his name to a school, which charged students exorbitant tuition rates for what amounted to a less-than-stellar education. But do we know where Rubio stands on climate change? We’ve heard Trump, bless his birther heart, wondering aloud whether Cruz is legally eligible to even hold the office of President in this country, but do we know where he stands on reducing the cost of a college education?

Why is so much left unsaid during the campaign? Why are so many of the important issues currently facing our nation ignored by the major candidates? Because in this era of media manipulation, the sound bite is king. Simplicity rules. There are many complex and multi-faceted issues that will face the next leader of our country, and discussing them takes longer than the few seconds afforded to the candidates on Face the Nation. It’s much easier—and safer—for example, for candidate Ted Cruz to discuss Donald Trump’s hair than it is for him to delineate for potential voters exactly why he wants to defund Planned Parenthood.

Here is a short list of major issues I think the various candidates should take time to address, in the midst of the torrent of insults and personal attacks that is surely coming our way as the 2016 nomination process heats up:

Education – The cost of a college education is spiraling out of control, and with it the crushing student loan debt being carried by college graduates nationwide. Democratic candidates Clinton and Sanders have made their education plans a major selling point during their campaigns—why are the Republican candidates so quiet on this issue?

Poverty – America is a global economic superpower, but fifteen percent of our nation’s citizens reside in poverty, and that percentage has been holding steady for years. Research shows that children raised in poor conditions are more likely to be unemployed, commit crimes, and struggle with lifelong poor health. What are the major presidential candidates planning to do to improve this situation?

Women’s rights – Women’s rights, affordable healthcare services for women, and pay equity issues are simply not being addressed by the candidates—unless you count the various Republican candidates bragging about how they’ve defunded Planned Parenthood, an organization which has provided health care services to underprivileged women nationwide for years. With half of the electorate directly involved with these issues, and with Hillary Clinton as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, why are they not being addressed?

Debt – The US government is struggling under an enormous debt, and tax-cut initiatives proposed by various candidates promise to make that debt worse before it gets better. Medicare and Social Security entitlements are increasing annually, and our country is facing a very real financial crisis as the average age of the population increases. What are the candidates planning to do about it?

Infrastructure – Roads, bridges, water systems and public buildings around the country are crumbling, and the cost of repairing or replacing them is prohibitive. What are the candidates planning to do about our country’s crumbling infrastructure? Where is the money going to come from? This is a situation that must be addressed, or debacles like the Flint water crisis may become more and more common in this country.

Granted, this is just a short list, and another one could easily be made with a half-dozen completely different topics. There are many more issues which could and should be discussed by the candidates, but probably won’t be, for whatever reason—too complex, no resonance with the voters, or just not “sexy” enough. One hopes that, as the campaigns roll on toward the conventions, the substance of what our various candidates are made of—and their plans for addressing the hard issues—will, at some point, reveal themselves.

 Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. He can be reached at

Civility takes a sabbatical

By David H. Landon

The answer to this question is in the eye of the beholder. I would argue that over the course of the ten Republican debates and six Democratic debates that the candidates have answered questions regarding all of the major issues facing the country. However, the purpose of these debates is not so much to determine what a particular candidate believes about a particular issue, but rather how he or she responds to the pressure of answering questions in front of 10 to 15 million viewers while the other candidates throw verbal missiles at each another.

The Republican debate in particular has taken on the characteristics of a food fight. Name calling, character assassination, distortion of voting records and the retreading of comments that a candidate made 20 years ago is par for the course during today’s Presidential debate format. And that’s just coming from the debate moderators. The candidates themselves are engaged in a full-throated battle on stage to carve out air time, a commodity worth millions of dollars for their campaigns. Pre-debate preparation includes saying something outrageous about an opponent, which is like chum in the water for the moderators and will assure a question during the debate that starts something like: Last week you said this about your opponent.

Donald Trump mastered this technique early in the debate season, but the other candidates have caught on. We saw this in the last Republican debate as Rubio and Cruz were mixing it up with Trump unlike earlier debates. The Democratic debates have been somewhat tamer, perhaps due in part to the much larger Republican field making it more difficult to be heard in the Republican debate without engaging in more inflammatory rhetoric. For candidates like mild-mannered Ben Carson this has really created a challenge. Although he is credited with the line of the night in the last debate when he asked if someone could “please attack me,” so he could get some air time.

Is this a new phenomenon or have Presidential debates always been like this? I spent some time reviewing the first televised Presidential debate, the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate. Kennedy had challenged Nixon to a series of televised debates, the first televised debate in American history. The debate was broadcast from a very small studio. Nixon and Kennedy sat in very modest looking chairs and the moderator sat behind a tiny desk between the two candidates.  There were no flashing lights, Airforce One backdrops or partisan studio audiences. It was just the two candidates.

During the debates, the two candidates were polite to one another and to the moderators. This is not to suggest that they weren’t asked pointed questions. Kennedy was asked about a Nixon campaign talking point that suggested Kennedy was inexperienced and naïve. Nixon was asked about a statement that President Eisenhower made in response to a question about what major contributions Vice President Nixon had made to his administration by saying, “If you give me a week I might be able to come up with one.”

Something else that this first debate taught us is that images and body language are powerful in forming opinions about candidates. In this first televised debate, Nixon refused the advice of his television advisor to wear makeup. Under the lights of the television studio, Nixon looked haggard, pale, and drawn. Kennedy by contrast had just completed a campaign swing through sunny California in an open convertible. He came into the debate looking like a bronzed warrior. While those Americans who listened to the debate on radio believed that Nixon was the winner, an overwhelming majority of those who watched the debate on television felt Kennedy had prevailed.

On the whole, the debates were a defining moment for the 1960 campaign. While both candidates were respectful towards the other, the up close look at the candidate helped many voters decide that they liked young John Kennedy and felt he could handle the job of President.

More than anything else, that is the role of these Presidential debates—to give the voter a gut feeling about the person they want to lead the country. The answers to the questions really don’t seem to matter as much as how the candidate answers the question. Does he or she show absolute confidence? Do attacks from the moderators or other candidates seem to rattle the candidate? Does he or she demonstrate the kind of gravitas expected of the leader of the free world?

In the current political environment, the candidates are facing a frustrated and angry electorate. That partially explains the success of those candidates considered as non-establishment candidates. Voters believe that America is on the wrong track and that the Washington-class has no ability to get things back on track. Voters belonging to both parties are turning to non-establishment candidates. Trump, Cruz and Carson for the Republicans and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats all represent a rejection of the Washington elite. No comment or statement during the debates seems to be too far over the edge for these candidates.

For voters expecting a Presidential candidate to be more statesman-like, there are no Thomas Jefferson’s on the ballot this year. Civility is on a sabbatical.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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