If you’ve ever been in the dreaded debate club in high school or taken it up a notch to a college-level effort, you know there are many tricks to the trade. We saw many tried-and-true tactics employed during the first of several presidential debates.
There’s the old idea that you present your opponent’s arguments for him. “Now, I know that Mr. XYZ is going to attack my voting record, but let’s be frank — it’s a whole lot better than his.”
Then there’s the idea that you use your opponent’s words against her. “Last year, my opponent recommended deep and troubling cuts to social programs. In fact, she said, ‘Enough is enough. We must cut, and it has to be across the board.’”
What about this one? “My opponent continues to distort my record on this. I am not saying he’s lying, but for goodness sake, I hope someone is checking the facts!” I love this one. I am not going to say something about my opponent, but you turn around and do it. Perfect.
Debates are fun to watch. Do they change election outcomes? I don’t think so. However, it is a hallmark of American politics to go one-on-one and challenge, prod and rebut what someone or a bunch of someones is saying about you.
Of course, we make a lot out of non-verbal communication. Certainly, looking down at your papers on the podium and scowling are not helpful. Shaking your head “yes” when someone is taking you to task is a no-no, and I saw that several times during the first debate.
We even get down to micro-criticizing such actions as who seemed to want to shake hands more aggressively than the other or whose tie was crooked. While television is the best medium for debates because we see and hear the candidates, it can become the message instead of the medium.
As we journey through the next 30 days of ample debates and plenty of Monday-morning quarterbacking, just remember your high school debate face-off was not seen by 50 million people and broadcast in 1080 pixels.