“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.” – Margaret Thatcher
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY – Historians say that the major reason for Richard Nixon’s dismal defeat to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 US presidential contest was because JFK clobbered him in the “live” TV debate.
Nixon’s body movement and “farcical” facial expressions became his Waterloo.
In a “live” TV debate, candidates can’t hide their expressions and mannerisms; the aesthetic reality prevails.
Television camera is so cruel it can capture even the number of times a debater’s Adam’s apple gyrates.
In TV format, a nervous candidate becomes an ugly sight.
His eyes watery and panicky like he is about to be hauled into an Inquisition, a nervous debater can produce a hailstorm of confusion among his followers and admirers in the audience.
The beauty of a “live” presidential debate actually is that the chaffs are easily separated from the grains.
Because all candidates are isolated on stage without immediate assistance from subalterns and campaign strategists, charlatans and nondescript debaters are immediately exposed.
They can’t be rescued by their spin doctors, image builders and propagandists who are off limits in the debate.
They are on their own, thus they better skip the debate if they aren’t prepared, or if they think they don’t belong there in the first place.
What the audience see is what they get.
One official debate can spill a disaster for any leading candidate who performs ludicrously.
After the “live” debate, the wheel of fortune changes so fast for any candidate who leads in independent surveys, or a candidate who lags behind.
It can narrow the gap among those wearing the yellow jersey in the surveys and those breathing behind their necks in quick succession hours after the debate.
Debate unmasks the pikons (onion-skinned) and those who are grandstanding.
A candidate should have no stage fright as it automatically disqualifies him or her from the program unless he or she wants to commit hara kiri.
In the last debates for the presidential and vice presidential races for the May 9 elections in the Philippines, we’ve seen how a leading vice presidential aspirant melted down as shown by the feedback in the social media because of a “robotic” style of speaking and his virtual lack of depth and substance on other major issues.
In the most recent presidential debate, we’ve seen how a candidate known for a gung-ho style dodged a question about foreign relations by resorting to argumentum ad verecundiam to camouflage his ignorance.
And so and so forth.
Debates are often a spectacle, but voters still look to them as a primary source of information where there is a democratic competition anywhere in the world.