While there’s little question that this year’s presidential and vice-presidential debates have featured more give and take — more actual debating between the candidates — than in previous years, the spontaneity seems to have come at a price: decorum.
One of today’s letter writers takes Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney to task for constantly interrupting President Obama and moderator Jim Lehrer during the first debate Oct. 3. And if Romney was indeed guilty, Vice President Joe Biden surely evened the score a week later in his tete-a-tete with Rep. Paul Ryan; then Obama — perhaps in response to the favorable response his running mate received among Democrats — was emboldened to follow suit in his second debate Tuesday.
Technically, the format of these affairs hasn’t really changed — at least in the regular debates (as opposed to the “town hall”), candidates are still supposed to get a prescribed length of time to respond to a question, then to respond to their opponent’s response — but the informal rules of engagement have clearly been loosened up, both by the moderators and the candidates themselves.
As a result, what’s taken place has been more akin to a real debate, instead of a forum where the candidates recite canned speeches on subjects that may have nothing to do with the question that was asked, and no one has the nerve to call them on it.
On balance the change has been for the better, though we’d like the moderators to pay a little more attention to the time clock and the candidates to do a better job holding their tongues when their opponents are speaking.