Editorial: Debates need more than talking points

Editorial Board

We’ll wait to say whether we think Texas Governor Rick Perry’s campaign for president is over or recovered until he demonstrates consistently his ability to interact with voters and pundits alike and until he shows a penchant for understanding issues beyond their existence as talking points. He may have performed well Saturday, but his gaffe Wednesday and performances in other debates, especially compared to some of his colleagues, are less than inspiring.

Politicians should fall under voters’ strict scrutiny before they make a decision about whom to support. Since the 1960 presidential election, television appearance has played a major role in determining how candidates are viewed. With a 24-hour news cycle, appearance is even more important 50 years later. Appearance — from haircuts to power ties to cowboy boots — on a glitzy stage during debates is also important.

So is an ability to relate to the common people, who may be opinionated, but are not involved in politics beyond casting their votes on election days. The fact that having that ability is necessary, however, does not mean that politicians should be common. We should habitually elect people because they are uncommon. And any display of commonness, such as forgetting the third federal department a candidate would eliminate, should weigh heavily against said candidate.

During the debates on constitutional ratification in 1787 to 1788, the writers of the “Federalist Papers” argued that if politicians are corrupt, it will be because the people who elect them are corrupt. If you are dissatisfied with the field of candidates, look no further than yourself. You have every opportunity, especially here, at an educational institution such as ours, both to make yourself more knowledgeable about how the world works and to gain experience in acting on that knowledge.

Thankfully, for whatever reason, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul attempted to assist Perry in finding his voice. Romney suggested the Environmental Protection Agency, and Paul suggested the number be five, not three. The Department of Energy, however, was not forthcoming.

We object to doing away with whole departments. If nothing else, the departments of education, commerce and energy provide valuable information on which the government (Read: We the people) can act. Without that knowledge, we cannot adjust our policies, where law is concerned, or our practices, where individual action is called for. Knowledge is power, and being unable to react to events, especially because one is ignorant, is dangerous.

Perhaps we are mistaken in expecting a high level of debate from the Republican candidates. Maybe that’s just not how politics work anymore. Maybe all it is, is talking points and voting. Who needs cutting-edge analysis, anyway? Who needs all those words, words, words when you have a majority?