POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TELEGRAPH
American television debates are not, nor have they ever been allowed to be, debates in any sense - they are joint press conferences.
They are scripted and tightly controlled. Times for responses are highly limited. The moderator is jointly agreed upon, and thereby is rather a marshmallow-like newsman, And the questions generally do not touch true controversies.
Past presidential debates are only memorable for the odd mistake, but candidates have always made mistakes, and I think they are often more powerful in print than on the evanescent television image.
There’s also silliness that enters the television debate, a good example being the impression Nixon made with five-o’clock shadow and sweating, and that is no way to judge a leader.
In effect the American debates are the perfect symbols of what national politics have become there: a rather vacuous contest between the duopoly political parties and having much the flavor and sense of the kind of advertising we see for burger chains or the two big soda pop companies. All rather dreary and definitely uninformative.
And, contrary to what was claimed the other day on this topic by Toby Harnden, always ready to exaggerate, the American debates have changed almost nothing real: you don’t get change from an exchange of fluff.