The Past and Future of Presidential Debates

By Austin Ranney | Go to book overview
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JACK DENNIS, University of Wisconsin: The first point Polsby makes against debates is that though the candidates are supposed to exhibit in a spontaneous fashion their own personalities and their own abilities, this does not, in fact, happen. I am glad that there is not too much spontaneity, that the candidates prepare themselves seriously for their appearances and spend a lot of time trying to memorize material relevant to what it is they stand for. I am glad that their views are not thought up on the spur of the moment and that they do represent themselves as people with well-developed views that they have presented before in other contexts.

POLSBY: Would you speak briefly on the spontaneity issue to the comparative advantage of debates over other forms of public presentation? It seems to me that your position is perfectly defensible, but it is also a critique of debates. If you want the candidates to be well prepared and preprogrammed, then what you really want is the prepackaged programming that they now have. Isn't that the cage?

DENNIS: I am not glad it is all preprogrammed, because I do not believe it is all preprogrammed. I think there is a good deal of give and take and extension of existing views. There is even some new content occasionally. But the candidates are presenting themselves to people who do not have much information about what they stand for. What they have to say may have been said before, but it is novel for the audience.

You thought the twenty-six-minute gap was very revealing of their personalities. I am wondering if that really is a revelation of personality or, rather, a revelation of how they are constrained by a situation.

POLSBY: The latter is what I meant. If people believe that debates are spontaneously revealing of personality, they have to confront the very strong negative evidence of that twenty-six-minute gap.


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The Past and Future of Presidential Debates


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