Rick Perry in a Fox News Tuesday interview stated if there was one mistake he’s made during his presidential primary campaign was “probably ever doing one of the” debates and went on to say, “All they’re interested in is stirring it up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people,” Later it was reported that Perry may pass on further debates.
But haven’t these debates already proven productive allowing for open dialogue about the issues and each candidate’s ideas for addressing them? The debates have also allowed the voting public to hear direct arguments for and against these individual policies. The candidates had an active platform to defend their ideas in a public forum along side their peers providing voters an opportunity a glimpse at how each will conduct themselves in similar situations as president.
What is the root of Perry’s discontent? Perhaps there is more concern among the candidates of today with passing their bases’ purity tests on ideology rather than running on and defending their policy ideas in a substantive manner. Gloria Borger, in her piece “The Perry approach — campaign first, have ideas later”, argues that Perry and other presidential candidates seem to be auditioning for the job with judgments based on their adherence to the conservative belief system as opposed to vetted policy plans.
Is this reaction by Rick Perry a response to a perceived need to pass the base’s tests? Or does it reflect a broader trend where politicians are avoiding situations, like these debates, where their comments and claims are questioned, where their policy ideas are subjected to tests of validity?
Since Sara Palin’s coining of the phrase “gotcha journalism”, in response to Charlie Gibson’s question about the Bush doctrine and Katie Couric’s, “What magazines do you read?”, it has become a term used by many politicians to describe any pointed questions aimed at clarifying their claims, comments or policy ideas their campaigns put forth.
The trend was quite evident during the 2010 midterm election season. Sharron Angle’s non-conservative press avoidance was obvious during here Nevada Senate run with video of here hastily eluding a reporter in a parking lot after a speech and implying she’ll perform interviews after she’s elected. Christine O’Donnell and Rand Paul canceled interview appearances after publicized missteps. Senator Russ Feingold and his opponent Ron Johnson kept their appearance schedules from local newspapers and Representative Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania avoided holding town hall meetings. Gubernatorial races were not immune either with Rick Perry refusing to debate his opponent and Jan Brewer of Arizona who canceled additional debates after a poor performance.
This summer’s congressional recesses saw the trend continued with numerous candidates avoiding in-person town halls opting instead for conference calls and controlled appearances.
Expressing his frustration with a perceived media bias recently, Newt Gingrich chastised the moderator during the MSNBC primary debate for sowing the seeds of divisiveness among the GOP candidates by asking them to comment on the similarities between Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts’ health care law and the Affordable Care Act. From the exchange it appeared Gingrich was essentially accusing the moderator for inciting debate…during a debate. He claimed comparative criticism between “Romneycare” and “Obamacare” was not a valid topic for the event even though it was mentioned in numerous campaign speeches leading up to the debate.
Joe Biden was also caught up in this when he was faced with unexpected questions about his comments pertaining to increases in crime during poor economic times. In the heated exchange Biden display irritation at the reporter’s direct questioning even stating, “Don’t screw around with me. Let’s get it straight.”. In the end, Politifact found the Vice President’s claim that murder and rape would increase if police were laid off in Flint, Michigan was Half True.
Where does this leave the average voter?
In the end if politicians choose to avoid situations where their policy ideas are subjected to serious assessment, where their claims are held to account and where their abilities to debate can be evaluated are they not performing a disservice to the American voting public? Isn’t it in the best interest of the country to determine the viability of politicians’ policies and plans before they are elected into office? And is it not a benefit to the average voter to gauge a candidate’s ability to function throughout the debate process? Because if a candidate cannot sustain themselves through multiple debates then what would convince prospective voters they are capable of effectively handling the rigors of the Office of the President?
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