Single-issue debates are a better course for the DNC

Tyler Sabloff | Senior Forum Editor

On Saturday, August 24th, 2019, members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted 222-137 to prevent presidential candidates from participating in third-party debates centered around a single issue. A debate on climate change has been advocated for by the youth-led Sunrise Movement and agreed to by 15 candidates. Future debates centered around other topics would have occurred as well.

Advocates for these single-issue debates stated that their implementation would allow for more constructive and in-depth debates surrounding the most important issues, improving on the tumultuousness of the first two sets of debates. DNC Chair Tom Perez and other top officials argued against the proposition on the basis that debating only one issue would prioritize one issue over others and give an unfair advantage to Gov. Jay Inslee who ran a single-issue campaign on climate change and has since dropped out of the race.

Hosting these single-issue debates would be the Democrats’ best course of action in the current state of their party. As of now, they are in somewhat of a state of reconstruction after 2016, redefining their direction and the fundamental positions of the party. By doing this, candidates would be able to flush out their individual positions, allowing voters to better understand the different positions of the candidates. This would lead to a more informed public and a stronger eventual nominee who has been thoroughly vetted by the public. It would also force candidates to formulate concrete plans rather than relying on soundbites and vague quips.

The toxicity of the last two sets of DNC debates cannot be overstated; the sheer abundance of players and issues on the docket leads to each candidate seeking for an opening to squeeze in a viral jab at another candidate. All of this has amounted to next to no additional information of note or a significant paradigm shift in polls. Joe Biden still remains on top, mostly carried by having the greatest name recognition of the bunch, with his closest rivals endlessly shifting around each other, but never quite matching up in polls.

It’s crucial to bring up the elephant (or I guess donkey) in the room: CNN. Having the debates thus far be controlled and moderated by the news network brings with it their agenda of maximizing their ratings. Conflict and infighting brings better ratings and CNN did absolutely everything in their power to encourage it. The commercials leading up played as if they were promoting a WWE fight night. The moderators continuously asked questions to pit specific candidates against one another, instigating conflict rather than constructive debate.

Perez and the rest of the DNC should reconsider their stance on single-issue debates lest this aggressive mentality prevail, effectively handing Trump 2020 on a silver platter. Forcing 20+ candidates and twice that many issues into 4 hours of prime time cable TV does not bode well at all for defining what the candidate’s positions are, let alone any actual policy proposals. Allowing breathing room for issues will promote better discussions, giving viewers a better sense of which candidate they prefer and strengthening the eventual nominee rather than weakening them.

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