News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 21, 2012

EDITORIAL: Unfolding debate season has been one of great worth

Voters benefit from candidates vetting issues in real time

The Tribune-Star

---- — Debates out our ears.

Presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial, vice presidential — we’ve seen all of those in recent days as campaigns and voters count down to the Nov. 6 election day.

Republican Mitt Romney soundly outpointed President Obama in their first debate and made the incumbent look unprepared and defensive. In the second presidential debate, Obama fired back from the get-go in what almost became a boxing match between the two contenders. (Conservative commentator George Will, not given to flights of fancy, termed that debate as “immeasurably the best” presidential debate in U.S. history — and he’s seen them all over the last 52 years.) The third and final Obama-Romney debate takes place at 9 p.m. Monday from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

In the only vice presidential debate, Democrat Joe Biden either smiled too much and too mockingly or just the right amount and quite sincerely, depending on your point of view — or bias. Did Republican Paul Ryan score points or was he made to look inexperienced?

The two Indiana gubernatorial debates so far have been ones of contrast: the homey humor and poison darts of Democrat John Gregg, the buttoned-down efficiency and modulated comebacks of Republican Mike Pence (the front-runner in the polls), the outsider-with-ideas approach and comic relief of Libertarian Rupert Boneham. The three will debate their final time at 7 p.m. Thursday from a Fort Wayne television studio.

In the first Indiana senatorial debate, Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly pummeled each other, and Libertarian Andrew Horning held himself out as an alternative to both. We’ll see what plays out when the three debate again at 7 p.m. Tuesday in New Albany.

Political debates are sometimes thought to be yawners — boring and filled with answers translatable only by policy wonks.

But these debates have been different, and so has this election been different. It is an election arising from a context of years of economic and employment woes; from perhaps unparalleled political upheaval and warring between parties; from the real-time nature of social media and their effects on messages; from the everyday threats of terrorism; and from widening global tensions in and among such places as Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel and Mexico.

From our vantage point, this year’s debates have had great value — the most in recent years — even when one discounts the preening, the canned one-liners and the clever comebackers.

The great thing about debates — no matter what analysts or pundits or editorial writers say — is that voters ultimately decide whom they believe more, which may not be the same as who “won” a debate.

Debates give voters a chance to see candidates in real time, pitted personally against their political rivals, thinking on their feet. Yes, candidates are rehearsed and have their standard, practiced, even shopworn lines. But sometimes — as in Wednesday’s presidential debate — the rigors of fleeting seconds and the insistence of the opponent and moderator force the candidate to flourish or fold. That’s good for would-be voters to see and by which to judge those who ask to lead them.