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Ye Olde Hilltopics: Rules Dilute Presidential “Debates”

We at Hilltopics have decided to begin participating in Throwback Thursday in the best way we know how: digging up articles from over a decade ago and publishing them here for all to wistfully admire. Each Thursday an article from one of our old issues will be published, so keep an eye out for these dust-covered gems!

Starting off this tradition, we have an article from Volume 1, Issue 1 published back on October 4th, 2004. We figured that since the final presidential debate is this week, it might be fitting to take a look back at the state of politics three elections in the past. Enjoy!


If you did not happen to watch President Bush and Senator Kerry square off on Thursday, donʼt worry; you didnʼt miss a debate—at least nothing more than a postmodern spin on a debate. Under todayʼs stringent regulations, candidates are under no obligation to answer the questions posed to them, and they are also forbidden to address or respond to each other.

However, the debate wasnʼt quite as bad as the 32-page memorandum, which stated its rules, seemed to suggest; after reading about “flashing red lights” and the size of each candidateʼs dressing room, I was expecting a half time show to give our entertainers a rest. But with these questions, donʼt expect entertainment. God forbid we actually see confrontation during a debate or hear a question that might throw a candidate off balance; even the next debate, where audience members will be asking the questions, their queries will not only be pre-approved but will be asked by “soft” Bush or “soft” Kerry fans. We wouldnʼt want any crazy undecided voters asking about an issue that might make either of the candidates stumble and actually answer a question.

Moreover, while expecting a direct answer to a question during a political debate would be overly optimistic, if not stupid, do we really want to forbid the candidates from directing questions at each other? But wait, they can ask each other questions if they are rhetorical—that makes sense. Furthermore, since we donʼt want anyone getting too rowdy, candidates are not permitted to move from the designated area behind their precisely measured podiums—thatʼs good news, I was worried about a fist fight breaking out if they got too close.

While it may have been nice to have a real debate where Kerry could invoke Reaganʼs voice saying, “There you go again” or Bush could tell Kerry, much like Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, “Senator, you are no John Kennedy,” at least Kerry did not change his position again and Bush only looked mildly confused — although he did say and use the word “vociferously” correctly. Imagine what would happen if we put the two candidates in a room, asked them questions they were not prepared for and let them respond to each other; with these two candidates it might be depressing, but it would surely be entertaining—it might even look like a debate.


Article by Courtney Underwood ’05
Original Publication: 10/4/2004

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