Candidates fly past one another in presidential debate

Eli Horowitz | Contributing Writer

Alex Chiu | Student Life

In the presidential debate at Hofstra University on Tuesday night, the moderator wasn’t the only one on stage that the candidates ignored. Whether it was about Governor Romney’s tax plan or President Obama’s record on energy independence, both candidates blatantly accused each other of false statements again and again and again. Most responses began with “That’s simply not true” or “Well, that was just wrong.”

As the presidential race has tightened, each of the candidates has abandoned one incredibly important thing: all pretense of seriously considering his opponent’s arguments. As a general election tightens, the historical trend has been to tone down rhetoric in order to appeal to the average voter. This is because the voters who truly decide elections, the undecideds, are not likely to be convinced by the same, more extreme policies that motivate the base. Instead of toning down rhetoric (although that has certainly happened) during this election cycle, the campaigns seem to be taking a different tack: pretending the opponent does not exist. Instead of admitting that Obama’s policies have yielded some positive and some negative results, Romney has characterized his opponent’s administration as a complete economic catastrophe. Instead of acknowledging that Romney has raised some legitimate criticisms of his actions during his first term, Obama presents a rosy picture of America’s condition that simply isn’t factual.

The only consistently honest thing said in this debate by either candidate was that the other candidate was lying. Even a cursory glance at the live Twitter feed for the fact-checking website, www.politifact.com, reveals mostly “half-true” statements, interspersed with a few “false” ratings, some “mostly true” and (these are my favorite) several “pants on fire” lies. Several news organizations live-blogged fact checks as the debate went on, identifying lies and half-truths in nearly every claim that was made. That news organizations can fact check policy quickly enough to follow the debate live is evidence enough of the sheer volume and audacity of the deceitfulness during these debates. The candidates seem to care more about their appearance, tone of voice and perceived energy level than the validity of their claims.

Our country deserves better. Both candidates are right about one other thing: we are at a crossroads. We are in the midst of a feeble economic recovery, continuing to hurdle toward a debt crisis, and those are just two of the myriad of issues facing whoever comes out on top this November. These debates are all too often the only forums that undecided voters have to get to know the candidates and their positions. By blatantly lying and refusing to acknowledge the opponent’s strengths as well as weaknesses, Romney and Obama did a disservice to our country. It’s not totally their fault—that’s the way our system is set up. We can’t have campaigns that make it advantageous to lie and debates that reward ignoring your opponent, yet still expect people who genuinely care about their positions not to take advantage. The issue of how campaigns in this country are structured is a larger one that needs more attention than I can give here, but debates are something we can fix. We need a new debate format, one that requires citing sources for claims and that requires that candidates address their opponents’ arguments point-by-point. It might not make for great television and it might require more than the standard 90-minute format, but what’s at stake here is well worth that price. These debates, and the votes they influence, matter. For lies to be the deciding factor and for the candidates to act as if they are talking to empty chairs (obligatory Clint Eastwood reference) is simply wrong. While ignoring the other guy and lying to appeal to the average voter might be a good way to win an election, it is not an honest way or one that serves the interests of the American people.

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