It’s the easiest way to end an argument as it nears the bend of head-spinning tautology: “I respect your opinion, and everyone’s certainly entitled to their own opinion…”
Except that they’re not – opinions rooted in fallacies are not entitled to be entertained as valid and they certainly shouldn’t be respected.
Professing a certain belief doesn’t entitle you to the same amount of platforming. Opinions based on emotional quotients are feckless against opinions grounded in researched facts and intellectual quotients. You may well say that the Earth is flat but science contradicts that; therefore your opinion is invalid. You may believe that President Obama is a Muslim Marxist Kenyan, against all facts to the contrary, but that does not entitle your opinion to be given equal gravitas in a debate, or public forum, against people who are armed with a command of basic logic, cognitive thinking skills, and facts.
When Captain Sully safely landed the American Airlines jet in the Hudson River, a local news reporter spoke to a man-on-the-street who happened to be nearby (though he was actually in the subway when the plane hit the water) but his commentary was somehow valid because naturally he was a person who was walking on a street. “God used his hands to glide those people to safety today,” he beamed. And where were God’s hands as a jet flew low over the Hudson River on September 11, 2001 heading straight for the North Tower of the World Trade Center? Were those hands clapping perhaps? A statement such as this must use the same logic in reference to a similar incident with an opposite outcome.
So why does our culture believe that simply because you are able to form a sentence that others should listen to you? And in a public forum used to determine the leader of the free world, no less.
The first town hall-styled presidential debate took place twenty years ago with President George H.W. Bush and then-Governor Bill Clinton. Deemed a success, the format has been used every four years since. It should also be noted that interests in hoi polloi opining reached its Coliseum-like zenith at this time when a glut of talk shows filled the airwaves with frothing-at-the-mouth rants on such programs as Sally Jesse Raphael, The Jenny Jones Show, The Jerry Springer Show, et. al.
Although questions during Tuesday night’s presidential debate will be pre-screened, once the Everyman and Everywoman takes to the microphone, there is nothing to stop them from changing their question, or ad-libbing. And don’t forget that these people have already proven that their intellectual curiosity and decision-making skills are some of the worst in our nation — these people (whom CNN’s Candy Crowley calls “real people”) are still “undecided voters.” Those aren’t just real people — let’s face it — they’re real stupid people.
Allowing the Everyman to pose questions in a political arena to the president of the United States (and his opponent) is not unlike allowing that same Everyman to nestle in between surgeons at a heart transplant and wisecrack during the chest cracking. And why, you ask, should these “real people” not be allowed to ask questions in a political forum? It’s simple: You wouldn’t want the “man on the street” strolling in and passing the doctor a scalpel because that interloper doesn’t know what the hell a scalpel is in the first place. Leave professional tasks to professionals. Tangentially, this is the same reason (like it or not) that the Electoral College was created: We (hopefully) elect congressional representatives who believe basically as we do but who are more educated on the issues to make proper decisions on our behalf. If you don’t like how the doctor stitched you up, then you may elect to see a different doctor the next time, but you shouldn’t take out a needle and thread yourself.
Barring an unforeseen zinger from the “real people,” or a possible gaffed response from Obama or Romney, the forum does actually provide fodder for body language experts, and how the candidate interacts with the audience is the real take-away from this format.
- Here’s what matters for twenty-four hours: In 1992 when President George H.W. Bush was asked by an undecided voter how the national debt had personally affected him and if it hadn’t affected him personally, then how was it possible for the U.S. to trust him to be able to fix it. Bush understandably stumbled over his response and said “I’m not sure I get it. Help me with the question and I’ll try to answer it … Everybody cares if people aren’t doing well.” In the president’s defense the question was rhetorical and it placed the president on the defense. It also didn’t help that the questioner interrupted Bush sharply at one point with a slicing, “How?” The query simply couldn’t be answered logically — it had to be answered empathetically and that was not Bush’s forte; it was Clinton’s.
- Here’s what still matters: President George H.W. Bush looked at his watch. The following day, media reported the confrontational exchange but the perception of what had transpired had already been decided and that incident forgotten. We now only remember this woman’s questioning (and follow-ups) with the president every four years when we rehash the town hall format. But the one thing that we never forget: The watch, or rather what it represents.
It’s safe to say that we will not witness any huggy Clintonesque moments from either Obama or Romney but what we will come away with is their ability — or lack thereof — to relate to other people. George H. W. Bush didn’t just look at his watch in 1992; the feeling the country got from that glance was that he was dispassionate and imperious, and unluckily for Bush he was on the same dais as Mister I-Feel-Your-Pain. Game over.
Considering that even the G.O.P.’s myriad attempts at proving to American voters that Romney is “relatable” and “just like them” have failed, this is a particularly difficult format for the governor. On the other hand, the upcoming town hall-style debate should give Obama the upper hand in this arena, assuming that hand isn’t holding his own head up to stay awake like in the first debate.
And if the president does win the debate, it won’t matter to the already-decided Republicans; they will simply opine that the Kenyan Marxist Muslim lost. And that is an opinion that is most certainly not worthy of respect.