Debate format leaves much room for debate

By Tom Joyce -
Tom Joyce -

Imagine the chaos that would reign if there were no scoreboards for football games.

Of course, just watching two teams run their offenses and defenses could give observers a pretty good idea of who was winning, especially if one was clobbering the other.

A fan likely would be able to keep a running tally in his or her head about how many touchdowns had been scored by either squad. Which might become laborious if the final score was 56-55 and included a lot of TDs, field goals or even a safety or two and maybe the game stretching into multiple overtimes.

But what if a fan visits the restroom or goes to the snack bar and misses a score?

That’s why we have the scoreboard, folks. When watching any sporting contest, either at stadiums or home on television, and even with only casual interest, we can always glance at those glowing numbers on the big screen or little screen in the corner and immediately know where things stand.

I just wish political debates were handled the same way, which I’ve lamented before in this space.

And my opinions in that regard have only become more galvanized with Monday night’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The two went at each other for 90 minutes or better, but unlike an athletic clash, there was no sense of finality about the outcome in terms of a number you could look at on a screen.

The candidates had barely left their respective podiums when the lines opened up to call-in shows around the country giving voters the chance to state who they thought had come out on top.

Then the next morning there were newspaper headlines asking “Who won?”

And though Clinton seemed to get the best of Trump by some measures — although the debate overall was poorly moderated and structured in my view — the answer to that question largely has been answered along party lines.

Those who support Trump will say he won and vice versa for the Hillary faithful.

And that was going to be the case unless one of the candidates came out wearing a Nazi uniform with swastikas and proceeded to cut babies’ heads off on the stage or otherwise did or said something outrageous.

As it was, the two took jabs and pointed and counter-pointed/counter-punched each other, constantly being allowed by the moderator to interrupt his or her opponent and speak past their allotted times in responding to questions.

However, unlike a baseball game or boxing match, there was no well-defined winner as indicated by a number.

This might have provided good drama on some level — which is all the more reason why our presidential and other political debates should be conducted on a dignified, formal basis. One that eliminates emotion and favoritism from the equation.

A good start would be incorporating the methods used for competitive collegiate debates, where a panel of judges actually applies numerical scores to determine the victor.

This reflects the debaters’ performance in such areas as making a clear and orderly presentation, whether their arguments are strong and persuasive throughout, being able to cross-examine and offer adequate defenses to negative points raised by the opponent, etc.

When everything is totaled, the winner is announced and everyone goes home with a sense of closure — even those on the losing end.

In other words, the outcome is fair, logical and far more acceptable than is the case with presidential debates.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the failure to have such a scoring system for debates is done on purpose to avoid declaring a clear-cut winner — for what reason, it’s unsure.

Yet we don’t allow this kind of mentality in any other American institution — sports or whatever.

Ours is a society that’s dependent on numbers, percentages or odds which guide everything in our lives, and yes, define winners and losers on a daily basis — whether it’s the stock market or football field. We have a continual demand to know who’s number one, and we can only do that by applying a score or some other evaluation factor to performance.

If you can bear one more gridiron reference, consider that the legendary coach Vince Lombardi once said: “If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”

I would add to this by pointing out that you don’t know who the winner is at all if no score is kept, and citizens deserve better in today’s day and age.

Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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By Tom Joyce