Moderators should not be a focal point
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 22:10
I’m starting to notice a negative pattern in how the public reacts to the series of debates surrounding the presidential elections. The big news after the first one seemed to be half that Mitt Romney won the debate and half the Jim Lehrer was steamrolled during the debate. Several stories posted following the vice presidential debate had to do with the winner being Martha Raddatz, the moderator. Last night, Twitter and Facebook had more “you go girl” lines, in reference to Candy Crowley, than an episode of Clueless from the 90s. Are you starting to see the pattern here?
The moderators are getting too much attention, the candidates aren’t covering topics and all that the American people seem to care about is whether or not Crowley was tough or sassy enough to keep the candidates in check. There was a moment in Tuesday night’s debate, very early on when both of the candidates were discussing the economy after a question about lowering taxes. For the first time in almost five years, two men who were, for all intents and purposes, the leaders of their parties were on stage outlining the key differences between Democrats and Republicans on the economy. I cannot think of a more relevant topic of discussion for the debates, which are supposed to be a way for undecided voters to make up their mind. However, Crowley decided to jump in and choose what could have been the best moment of the debate to demonstrate that she was going to be full of moxy and keep the candidates in their place. So she showed off that she was tough and Facebook and Twitter took notice with their perfunctory “you go girl” posts from users – sure, the American voter was done a huge disservice so that we could move on to a new question that was totally irrelevant, but at least the moderator showed some teeth, right?
Don’t get me wrong; each question asked at the debate was important but the point of a debate is having both candidates hold each other accountable for their rhetoric in real time. Asking them inane surface questions and only giving them two minutes is tantamount to putting two televisions on stage next to each other and playing footage of campaign ads in two minute intervals. Crowley should not be praised by the American public for making the candidates fight her for a chance to hold their opponent’s feet to the fire.
I understand the need for a moderator in a debate. Although it would be fun, we cannot just lock the candidates in a room and let them have at each other. However, we need more moderators like Jim Lehrer who knew that the debate wasn’t about him. A point to be made about the first presidential debate was that the candidates were able to get into the minutiae of the topics without sacrificing any planned topics. Lehrer didn’t get steamrolled—he moderated a very fine debate, and people are just bleeding their hearts for him for no reason. Crowley, on the other hand was all about showing off how tough she could be – admittedly, she was tough, but that’s not the point.
Crowley’s inappropriateness and inadequacy shined again when she took a moment to fight president Obama’s battles on Libya for him. Some may call it a fact-check but to them I ask why it came 75 minutes into the debate. It’s a debate, Obama is a big boy and fully capable of defending himself. If he isn’t, that’s another issue. She even incited an applause break from the audience, something she’s supposed to formally discourage but couldn’t since she was the cause of it.
For her role in keeping time and keeping the candidates on track, Crowley and all of the moderators deserve credit because they are doing a very difficult job in the national spotlight. However, to balloon Crowley’s inappropriateness into hero worship is a little much, especially when the stakes are this high. Tuesday night’s debate was anything but a debate. Although it was combative, what grounds did the candidates cover that couldn’t have been discovered by an undecided voter with five minutes and a Google toolbar? The answer is none, and therein lies the problem with this debate season. As we count down the days until the third and final debate, let’s all take a minute to remember whose performance we should care about: the candidates’, not the moderator’s.