Civil Discourse Now

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Suggested score card for the "debate" on Wednesday, October 3.

   How should one "score" the "debate" tomorrow night?

   In high school and college debate, ballots had six areas, each awarded five points, for a total of 30 points possible per speaker. My memory might be faulty as to those areas, but the scent of 3M paper still haunts my nostrils when I flash back to trips home from tournament.

   The usual areas were: delivery, refutation, organization, evidence, analysis, and cross-examination. Those ballots were for competitive rounds in college. They give us a basis for judging tomorrow’s contest.  More than one commentator last evening mentioned this is more about the American people being able to see the type of person each candidate is.

   A story in The New York Times described Mitt Romney as having worked the past couple of months on "zingers"—one-liners with which he can intersperse his speech. Probably that is not a good idea. Romney does not come across as a spontaneous kind of guy—unless he is in front of campaign donors in Boca Raton. Also, a good line can hurt a debate—if the debater is so intent on getting the line in that the person mangles the dialogue to force in the line. Spontaneity can be practiced—sure. But the line still has to sound and its delivery look spontaneous. Mitt is not that good of an actor.

   Here are the areas by which I will judge.

   Delivery: Romney has a tendency to hesitate and use audible pauses. That makes him appear uncertain. President Obama can appear too laid-back. 

   Responsiveness to questions: This is the "duck" factor. Every time one of the candidates answers a question with a non-answer, that is a duck. A person does not answer a question when that person simply tries to spin it into his or her talking points.

   Evidence: I would like to hear facts, and not simply anecdotal accounts. "I spoke to a man in Iowa..." Both candidates will do this, of course. They want to appear to understand the American people. Cool. Get the anecdotes out of the way and give us facts and details.

   Demeanor: This is a key factor. Does the candidate look and sound "presidential"? Do you feel like the guy is capable of the stress of decisions that can kill people?

   Organization: This is not a college debate round, in which we used flow sheets to chart our opponents’ arguments. Still, organization is important as a gauge of the person’s thought processes. Rick Perry had a brain fart last spring on his "I’d eliminate three departments—energy, education, and .... what was the other?" In part that was organization. He was trying to argue off the top of his head. It is easy to repeatedly return to an outline of the same points. It is difficult to conform one’s arguments to an overall plan, and relate those arguments—and in this instance, answers—to that overall plan.

   Gaffes: This is a big one. The right gaffe could cripple one of the candidates in the polls.

   So there are my six categories. I will score tomorrow’s debate accordingly. Romney’s people say the debate does not mean anything. Chris Christie says the political landscape will be different when people wake up Thursday morning. History tells us—maybe not so much.     

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