Politics and Civility

Have you noticed how brutal the American Presidential campaign has become? Whether it is Republican Governor Chris Christie mocking Marco Rubio as the boy in the bubble, or Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton accusing Bernie Sanders of smearing her reputation, the quality of the political discourse descends to new lows with every passing week.

One cause of this regrettable behavior might be the “hooting and hollering, cheering and jeering” debate audiences who prefer to gleefully scream at each “smackdown” instead of listening to rational discourse. But would a quiet, thoughtful, conversational debate be feasible today?

Although we all have short memories, we merely need to reach back to the previous Presidential campaign to recall such an event. On October 22, 2012, President Obama and Governor Romney engaged in a debate with moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News. The audience was silent, the candidates were seated next to each other, and the moderator was focused on encouraging intelligent discussion instead of exuberant insults.

That’s not to say that the conversation was completely civil. At the 1 hour, 24 minute, and 50 second mark, for instance, Governor Romney icily responded to the President’s interruption by declaring “I’m still speaking!”

Indeed, throughout the event, neither candidate made any attempt to hide the fact that he didn’t care much for the other. And yet they produced a substantive conversation that revealed two very different philosophies about government policy.

Perhaps our culture has changed dramatically in just three brief years. It’s possible that we’re now living in a very different era of political discourse. Nevertheless, do we have anything to lose by giving an experienced news anchor an opportunity to manage a similar conversation between opposing candidates?

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