The Global Spectacle: US Presidential Debates and Their Importance

The road to the US presidency is long and arduous and debates lay key milestones.
Keywords: Debates, US, Elections, Presidential, Conflict, Global, Political, Discourse
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Many people worldwide have long been captivated by America’s presidential debates, viewing them as pivotal moments that offer a window into the character, politics and leadership potential of the candidates vying for the highest office in the United States. This phenomenon, while modern in its media format, has a long history that reflects the evolving nature of political discourse and public engagement.

In the early days of the American Republic, it was considered inappropriate for presidential candidates to campaign for themselves. The public face of the candidacy was often managed through proxies, with debates primarily taking place in races for lower offices, such as the famous Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858. It was not until the 1840s that direct debates were staged between candidates for party nominations, leading to the first televised presidential one in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. That historic confrontation was a game-changer, facilitated by the advent of national broadcast media, which allowed for a wide audience to be reached.

The Kennedy-Nixon debate set a precedent, yet it was not immediately followed up with regularity; another sixteen years passed before the next presidential debate was staged. Since then, however, the debates have become a staple of presidential campaigns, allowing voters to see the candidates in action and gauge their readiness to lead.

These debates are governed by rules designed to ensure a fair and orderly exchange of ideas. These rules include time limits, topic adherence, and anti-disruption guidelines, with moderators playing a key role in enforcing these standards. Unfortunately, USA’s political debates have increasingly turned into shouting and mudslinging matches, deviating from the more structured format and respectful style seen in British parliamentary debate for instance.

This year’s ninety-minute format of the US presidential debates was structured to facilitate in-depth discussion of the US’s major issues. The moderators opened each segment with a question and gave each candidate two minutes to answer, followed by opportunities for direct interactions and in-depth discussion. This setting was intended to reveal the character of the candidates, their ability to handle challenging questions and their capacity to organise their thoughts logically and convincingly.

The structure and limitations of these debates however tend to prevent a truly comprehensive examination of the candidates’ positions. Questions are usually expected, allowing for rehearsed stump speeches. The lack of follow-up questions from the audience allows candidates to avoid giving direct answers. This format also tends to sideline issues that the media do not consider critical, thus limiting the scope of the conversation.

One of the most contentious aspects of the US presidential debates is the exclusion of third-party candidates. The debates are moderated by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CoPD), a body run by USA’s two of the most prominent parties, Democrats and Republicans, that usually excludes independent voices. The inclusion of multiple political parties could bring new perspectives and potentially shift voter preferences away from the dominant two-party system. Clearly, this shift could pose a threat to established parties, but could strengthen democratic engagement by exposing voters to a wider range of ideas.

Reflecting on the recent debates, it is clear that age and mental acuity have become focal points, especially with regard to the current US President Joe Biden. His struggles with public speaking and obvious lack of coherence and memory  have raised serious concerns about his suitability for a second term. Conversely, former US President Donald Trump’s polarising debate style, characterised by the frequent interruptions of his counterpart, inaccurate statements and off-topic rants, highlights his contentious and often rude approach to political discourse.

The first US presidential debate this year, which took place in late June, has been widely perceived as a disaster. Trump’s inability to answer questions directly and Biden’s mumbling and disjointed statements left many viewers disheartened, not just in the USA but abroad as well. The performance challenged the notion that the debates do not significantly change the outcome of the electoral race, because the latest one convinced many voters that Biden is not mentally and physically fit to hold his office. According to Prof. Allan Jay Lichtman, an American Historian whose model has accurately predicted the outcome of every US presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s, elections are decided by the overall state of the country rather than the results of the debates, so the Biden-Trump verbal duel may have been exceptional in that sense.

The global community and world media reactions to the recently concluded first US presidential debate were quite critical and reflect broader concerns about the state of American democracy. 

Despite their flaws, US presidential debates remain a key part of their election process, offering candidates a platform to present their visions and engage with their opponents. In this particular case, the debate revealed once more the spectacular flaws and deficiencies of the two candidates. 

The road to the US presidency is long and arduous and debates lay key milestones. As the outside world too watches them closely, the United States must strive to exemplify the democratic principles it wishes to uphold. In doing so, it can reaffirm its commitment to fair and open political discourse and set a positive example for the global community!

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Amarjeet Verma

Amarjeet Verma is a passionate social activist and policy expert with a unique perspective, being a person with a different ability. His unyeilding commitment is evident through his active engagement in advocating for various local and national issues. A prolific contributor to numerous news and content platforms, Amarjeet fearlessly amplifies voices that deserve attention. His expertise extends to sharing insightful views on diverse policy matters. Additionally, he is committed to identifying and celebrating change-makers and youth icons in Bihar, recognizing their contributions across various fields. Amarjeet Verma's indomitable spirit and advocacy work exemplify his determination to bring positive change and create an inclusive society for all.

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