News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Since when is a lying contest a debate?

I have never been a debate coach, but since my freshmen year in college, I have been involved in it.  The college recruited students who had courses in rhetoric to get involved in the debate contests on campus.  They started you out as a time-keeper and then assigned you to judge as you became familiar with the criteria used to evaluate the debaters.

I have since judged many debates and mostly have enjoyed watching young people get involved.  At NSU we had big tournaments during which faculty were moved out of their assigned classrooms so the young debaters could use the rooms for their contests.  I enjoyed seeing the young people with their stacks of note cards reviewing the facts and the arguments they planned to shape around them.  I did not judge in those tournaments but enjoyed seeing the energy and intelligence put to work.  

That exposure to actual debate and the practice of actual rhetoric has made me cynical and skeptical about any actual value that the televised political debates may have.  While the pundits and commentators go into a frenzy of declaring winners and losers, I can't help but think that the country in general comes up as the big loser.  The so-called debaters posture and proclaim, but their exchanges seldom involve real debate.  Making negative and often false characterizations and accusations of opponents is not debating facts.  In fact, that practice makes facts irrelevant.  They become contests of who can get away with the biggest misrepresentations of the opponents and the facts.

So it was with the Republican candidates' jabber-fest last night.  However, some journalists have finally gotten back to doing their job of trying to state the facts and get them right.

The New York Times within minutes of the debate had put up a story addressing the misrepresentations of the facts cited.  The Washington Post's resident fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, had his coverage of the false facts up by this morning.  

However, with politics having deteriorated into the idiotic noise of personal attack and making up defamatory facts, I wonder if anyone but a few such as I, who live in the nostalgia of times when humankind strove for a higher intelligence and integrity, really gives a shit.  

In scanning the blog posts referring to the lie-fest, I doubt it.  Most commenters are more interested in disenfranchising and terminating those who do not share their political affections.  I think the Republicans are dedicated to throwing more and more people out of work and taking away any voice that those who do work have in their endeavors and then going ballistic about the lack of job creation.  

The current politics is leading us back into a new dark age of would-be lords and serfs.  I for one will resist going back there.  And so I will track who is lying and who is trying to deal with actual facts. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States