I attended and graduated from a high school that, prior to my enrollment, had a speech team, but not a debate team. A couple of weeks into my first year on the speech team, we attended a debate tournament as a favor to the coach of another school. I was hooked. I loved debate. I was on the team all through high school. The culmination was our making state finals. When I reached Depauw, I already had been in contact with the coach, Doctor Weiss, and one of the debaters. Again, I debated al through school. Years later, when I was out of law school and in practice, I was offered, and accepted, the position of coach of the IUPUI debate team. I did that for four years. In short, I love debate and have a great respect for people who are good at it.
Presidential debates are not debates at all. A lot of the questions are softballs. The rest of the questions are phrased in ways so as to enable the candidate to use the question as a launching point for a talking point from her or his campaign. The candidates do it all the time---no matter the party, etc. Why are members of the press not diligent about saying, "Excuse me (Governor/Senator/Representative), but you did not answer my question. Would you like for me to repeat it?"
What does not help is when the network broadcasting the debate co-hosts, with a politically active group, the debate in question. The Tampa debate was cohosted by CNN and one of the vestiges of the so-called tea party a/k/a tea baggers, the Tea Party Express. I would infer the Koch brothers pumped money into the process one way or another. When someone pays for the time and the facilities, it is difficult to level criticism at them/it. I said "it" to include corporaations because, as Mitt Romney has pointed out, corporations are people, too, friend.
My experience in high school debate differed significantly from yours. I swore the whole thing off (as a sophomore) after I lost (not that I was a good debater) to two people who understood that year's question about as well as did the "judge" (somebody's dragooned Mom). And still bitter about it, I see.
You're absolutely right that Presidential "debates" aren't. Having a moderator argue with a candidate isn't good for the bottom line, so it isn't done. If people really saw how shallow most of the candidates were, those candidates would crawl back to wherever it was they came from in shame.
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