The debate about debates: enough already

It’s the next phase of silly season.  U.S. Senate candidates Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren are to-ing and fro-ing about how often they’ll debate one another and in what settings.  So far, she has agreed to four televised debates and he, to two televised debates and two radio debates. 

Included among those she has agreed is one sponsored by the Kennedy Institute, moderated by newsman Tom Brokaw, aired on MSNBC.  Given the Kennedy association (Vicki Kennedy issued the invitation) and the decidedly liberal bent of MSNBC, Brown doesn’t want to do that.  Warren, for her part, doesn’t want to do a radio debate on conservative-leaning Dan Rea’s WBZ program.  But Brokaw and  Rea are both  consummate journalists, more than capable of fair moderating.

The candidates need to smarten up. They need to acknowledge that the more debates they do, the more we benefit.  Granted, I speak from the perspective of a political junkie, one who watched every one of the Republican primary debates. By the end,  despite the flawed formats,  I had a better sense of them all.

In 1996, there were eight debates between Sen. John Kerry and Governor Bill Weld for the Senate seat, and the public benefitted.  As the Harvard Crimson noted at th time, “the differences between Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and his Republican challenger, Gov. William F. Weld ’66, have become almost as clear as the disparities between their alma maters–Yale and Harvard.”

As for  venues, if Brown and Warren are afraid to go into what they think is each other’s territory, how can we have confidence that they’ll zealously face up to entrenched powers in the Senate or make the tough calls on war and peace?  Elizabeth Warren showed courage in standing up to Wall Street and its proxies in Congress on the matter of regulating financial services.  Where is that courage now?  Scott Brown claims to have a record of independence, able to stand on his own feet and not bow to others if he disagrees with them.  Why should he fear going into a debate in uncertain territory?

It’s really disappointing to see this focus on gamesmanship rather than significant issues facing our nation. Control of the Senate will have a lot to do with the fate of our fiscal condition, energy policy, education, environment, health and, yes, jobs. Sending Warren and not Brown, or Brown and not Warren, does matter.  Both owe the public more than just their controlled avertisements. Even though current debate formats usually prevent  extended thoughtful discussions, they are far better than not having them.  In addition to general debates, there should be others focused specifically on domestic and foreign policy issues.

The bottom line is: we need as many  debate opportunities and venues as possible to learn, in a relatively unscripted way,  what these candidates all about.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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