Debate DOA?

Richard C. Harwood, President, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation Many commentators have been saying that tonight’s debate won’t matter. They’ve pronounced the debate dead on arrival, especially due to its format, the post-debate spin they anticipate, and the candidates’ unwillingness to be forthright.

While there may be some truth to these critiques, they create a deeper problem for America. Their dismissive tone spreads a narrative that we ought not to take these debates seriously. In turn, many people may not watch tonight or will reflexively discount the results. Americans are anxious about the direction of the nation. They want a leader who can provide a vision for the future, outline the necessary steps to achieve it, and provide a sense of personal and common security.

I agree that tonight’s debate format is unconscionable – a result of politics as usual and meek candidates. But spinning a narrative of futility only breeds further disengagement.

Here’s what I think we should do about tonight’s debate:

      1.Watch the debate – the more people who watch, the more the candidates will get the message that people care. Then they will be more likely to give us what we need.
      2.Tune out the spin – don’t listen to all the spin and noise after the debates. Sleep on it and see what you think in the morning.
      3.Talk to your friends – talk to people tomorrow about what they heard and saw. Make sure to find people who have differing opinions from your own. Too often we just confirm own beliefs by talking to people with whom we already agree.
      4.Do some legwork – use the

Harwood Barometer for Political Conduct

     as you watch the debate tonight. It will help you get past all the silliness and determine if you think the candidates are genuinely speaking to you and the nation.

I don’t like the way this campaign is unfolding. But tonight’s debate is important and we shouldn’t simply dismiss it because it doesn’t meet all of our expectations.

We should step up and watch.

And please join me here tomorrow, and the day after each debate. I’ll be joined by some fantastic guests who will help you spur your thinking, and offer a civic-minded perspective you won’t find in the spin cycle of regular debate analysis. Guest bloggers will include:

Cole Campbell

      , dean of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism,

University of Nevada - Reno

Veronica De La Garza

      , Executive Director of

The Youth Vote Coalition

Jehmu Greene

      , President of

Rock The Vote

Rita Kirk

      , specialist in political communication and Chair of the Corporate Communications & Public Affairs Division,

Southern Methodist University

Matthew Yglesias



       and staff writer at

The American Prospect

I’m looking forward to their comments, and I hope you will check back often to add your own voice.