In Defense of the Debate Moderators

After watching the Veep debate last night, I had a knot in my stomach, worrying I was destined to write another piece on how politics misses people. I’ll leave that for another day. Today I’d rather focus on how the two debate moderators – Jim Lehrer and Martha Raddatz – have given us all a gift. After the first presidential debate, Lehrer came under heavy fire for “losing control” of the night; similar rumblings could be heard from some quarters last night, too. But control over what? That each candidate must stick to 60-second responses on something as important as health care, Afghanistan, or jobs? Or, that they need to live under rules that shackle them to 30-second rebuttals? At times, this campaign almost seems like a “non campaign” – as if the real discussion and debate has never begun; as if we still do not truly know what each side is for, only what they dislike about their opponent. The campaign ads are shrill, negative, and downright depressing. What’s not to like, right?

So, here come Lehrer and Raddatz, and they take the risk to open things up. They are true professionals and genuine enough to know that the debates are not about them, and they should get out of the way of the candidates and let them talk. Both moderators proved to be secure enough not to take offense to candidates interrupting each other, or even them, not falling into a false sense of bravado and trying to make themselves look good, seem “in control,” or score points by “setting the candidates right.”

In both debates the candidates were forced to say more than their talking points, even zingers, and engage. They had to be able to go back-and-forth and attempt to make an argument. We got to see a bit of who they are, and even what they value. This is all due to the moderators.

Of course, I can’t write today without railing just a bit on the candidates themselves. From my perspective, the candidates still have not truly addressed what’s on the minds of people in the country, and nor have they spoken to people’s aspirations. Someone worried about their job, their kids being able to afford college, their desire for people to come together and get things done, the poor and vulnerable, what we owe to one another – these have not been addressed. One can only hope that real and illuminating discussion about such topics will come in the next two debates and the remainder of this campaign. I am not holding my breath.

And so in a campaign season in which there has been little to celebrate, where few occasions are presented where people can get behind what they are for, I can report that I am delighted for these two moderators, their approach to the debates, and their willingness to make a go of things.

Lehrer’s and Raddatz’s humility in a time of everything being scripted, is refreshing and to be lauded. Thank goodness for some good news.