COMMENTARY: Online political debates are possible, but not pleasant

LOGAN – For anyone wondering whether a political debate is possible in this era of social distancing due to the Coronavirus, the answer was found in an April 13 face-off via video conferencing of 11 GOP candidates to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop hosted by the Vernal Area Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, “face-off” is the wrong term for that event, since nobody was face-to-face. That’s the problem. A political debate via video-conferencing may be possible, but it’s no fun. I’d rather watch paint dry.

Even for a political junkie like me, the debate was deadly boring. There was no drama, no zingers, no bad behavior and no audience reaction. It was like watching 11 people who you know are intelligent and articulate wearing gags and straitjackets playing that old TV game show “Beat the Clock.”

The Vernal debate had all the things that we all say that we want in a debate, but really don’t want to see.

It was very civil, since the candidates could only talk to moderator Sonja Norton, not to each other. The debate’s rules of engagement clearly prohibited profanity, threats, loud talk and other cheap theatrics. If that list of no-no’s had included hyperbole and obfuscation, most politicians would have been rendered speechless.

The debate also ran strictly on time. It’s easy to keep candidates’ comments brief when you can silence them with the touch of a button.

But if bloodless debates like this are all we’re going to see between now and the general election in November, I’d volunteer for social isolation in Antarctica right now.

Still, I think that I could offer a few helpful suggestions to political candidates that might make upcoming video-conferencing debates a little more bearable.

First of all, don’t waste your time trying to tell a joke during your 90-seconds introductory remarks. How would you even know if that quip broke the ice?

Don’t insult the viewers’ intelligence by saying that you’re not a politician. If you’re not a politician, what are you doing in a candidates’ debate?

Don’t orient your computer’s camera so that it catches you sitting next to a roaring fire in a fireplace. That cliché may have worked for Franklin D. Roosevelt in his fireside chats during the 1930s, but he was on radio.

Finally, don’t keep repeating your campaign slogan over and over again. We heard it the first time. Besides, you’re running to be a congressional representative, not a parrot.

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