Thursday, September 15, 2016

History of the Presidential Debates

I don't like Jill Lepore, but this is actually an interesting piece.

Presidential debates are more often lost than won. The gaffe costs more than exposition gains. It’s easy to practice your kicking; it’s harder to brace yourself for getting kicked. Over the summer, there were rumors that the Clinton campaign had arranged for Alan Dershowitz to play Trump during rehearsals. Nothing but rumors, Dershowitz told me, though he’d love to do it, and he knows how he’d do it, too. “I’d try to provoke her,” he said. “I’d ask about Bill and Monica. I’d ask about her health. Did she bang her head? Does she have blood clots?” The health of the candidates has been an issue during the campaign, proxies for their age: Trump is seventy, Clinton sixty-eight. Trump and Clinton and their key advisers, who like to emphasize their stamina, were kids when Nixon, then forty-seven, debated Kennedy, forty-three. Roger Ailes, who is helping Trump prepare against Clinton, is seventy-six. In the nineteen-sixties, when Ailes was just starting out, he told Nixon that he lost the election to Kennedy because he was lousy on television. He went on to found Fox News but was forced out this summer after an investigation into charges that he’d sexually harassed female employees. It may be that Ailes will advise Trump not to refer to his penis again on national television, but, honestly, who knows? The candidates are old. This era in American politics is new....

Political argument has been having a terrible century. Instead of arguing, everyone from next-door neighbors to members of Congress has got used to doing the I.R.L. equivalent of posting to the comments section: serially fulminating. The U.S. Supreme Court is one Justice short of a full bench, limiting its ability to deliberate, because Senate Republicans refused to hold the hearings required in order to fill that seat. They’d rather do battle on Twitter. Democratic members of Congress, unable to get the House of Representatives to debate gun-control measures, held a sit-in, live-streamed on Periscope. At campaign events, and even at the nominating Conventions, protesters have tried to silence other people’s speech in the name of the First Amendment. On college campuses, administrators, faculty, and students who express unwelcome political views have been fired and expelled. Even high-school debate has come under sustained attack from students who, refusing to argue the assigned political topic, contest the rules. One in three Americans declines to discuss politics except in private; fewer than one in four ever talk with someone with whom they disagree politically; fewer than one in five have ever attended a problem-solving meeting, even online, with people holding views different from their own. What kind of democracy is that?