Presidential Debate - Why do Americans Allow This?

Let me preface this post by saying I make no leans to one side of the aisle or another, my frustration is fully bi-partisan.

However that being said, after watching all the debates this year, I cannot help but wonder why so many voters put up with such obvious double speak and manipulation of facts on ALMOST EVERY point. Both candidates will stand up and take EXACT opposite sides of the same issue backed with diametrically opposed facts that are so obviously manipulated that a 5th grader could sniff out the deception.

Two examples of such laughable manipulation:

Obama claimed that he created 5.2 million jobs in the last 31 months, but of course fails to mention that this was only AFTER losing almost that same amount earlier in his term. Add to this the unemployment rate being almost unchanged and accounting for population growth and this “stat” is misleading at best and designed to fool uneducated voters.

Romney stated that Obama has doubled the deficit, which is simply untrue unless you are willing to lay the 1.2 trillion debt inherited by Obama as “his”.

While I understand that they are both out to “win”, its amazing to me that so very little time is spent by the candidates just HONESTLY talking and discussing what you really stand for and support as opposed to throwing out double speak and forcing voters to engage in the exercise of sort truth from lies.

I know this all sounds naive and its nothing new, but it appears to become much worse in recent years.

It’s naive, it’s nothing new, and it’s done because it works and it has always worked.

Time Magazine did a good job of summing it up.

It’s only doublespeak and manipulation when the OTHER guy does it.

That sonofabitch.

Political campaigns are about marketing, not about substantive discussion of policy. Irrational? Yes, but twas ever thus. Politicans can publish substantive policy papers but nobody will read them. The most effective messages are emotional, not factual, and that’s not a recent discovery. Nor is it unique to the US.

Emotion makes for bad policy.

We’re doomed.

The reasoning is that it is the job of the candidates to point out the whoppers his opponent said, either during rebuttal or in the days after.
Presidential debates are relatively new. I don’t think there was a single one before 1960. The second one wasn’t until 1976 and they have become standard since.
For about a century it was considered unseemly for a candidate to even have a campaign tour. You were expected to stay at home, give speeches to those who visited you and let others speak for you. IIRC William Jennings Bryan was the first to actively campaign in 1896.

It’s hardly naive. In the UK, Politicians will do anything to draw attention away from bad figures, by letting their spin doctors loose on it. They might release them on a busy news day, or try and interpret them differently, but if they started just making stuff up, there would be calls for their resignation pretty quickly.

…because, as we all know, America has never had a bad President

There were debates before 1960, starting with Lincoln/Douglas, but true that it wasn’t until 1976 that they became a standard part of the election process.

I think it is totally unrealistic to expect any politician – not just ones from the major parties – to present arguments in a totally neutral, objective manner as the OP suggests. It’s just basic marketing: you don’t see ads for Coca Cola which say, “It tastes really good, but ruins your teeth!” Similarly, it simply isn’t reasonable to expect Obama to campaign on: “A lot of jobs have been added to the economy after the stimulus kicked in, but overall job growth has almost been zero since the day I was sworn into office!”

Now, there are of course more egregious distortions and outright lies that are more clear. For example, candidates have been called out by the proliferating number of media fact checkers on statements such as “90% of the deficit is due to Bush policies,” or a whole plethora of attacks on Obamacare that just plain made from whole cloth. But the information debunking these kind of claims is out there, you just have to read the news. i think the growing obsession with media fact checking is a direct outgrowth of people getting tired of these kinds of exaggerations.

But as far people “putting up” with this sort of rhetoric, I think it’s pretty obvious that people are more tolerant of dissembling from two candidates who more closely represent their own political views, rather than preferring “truth” from fringe candidates like the Libertarian or Green parties. (I’m not saying that the libertarians or greens are more truthful, I’m saying their views are rejected by mainstream voters, a voters would rather see exaggerations from mainstream candidates than vote for someone they think is a kook, even if he is a truthful kook.)

It’s part of convincing voters it’s all too complex for them to understand, I think.

The math doesn’t add up because, ‘it’s complicated’. I, ‘don’t have the time’, to go over it all, point by point, right now!

And, no doubt, there are indeed, complex and convoluted issues where not everything is made for public airing perhaps. But they seem to have taken the concept and really run with it. Until you can hardly understand what the hell they’re talking about and are left wondering if they can even hear themselves.

Nitpick: Jim’s Son was referring to the lack of presidential debates prior to 1960. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were for a US Senate seat. (BTW, people today would probably be bored silly if you tried to have a similar debate. The format then, according to Wikipedia, “one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other candidate spoke for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute ‘rejoinder.’”)


What would you have us do, haul them off to jail if they don’t speak the truth? (a partially rhetorical question)

As U.S. citizens, they are “allowed” to say whatever they please, and we are “allowed” to believe them.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have something like Watson (the computer that played on Jeopardy) moderate one of these debates and cut in everytime a lie or stretching of the truth, or obfuscation of the facts occurred?

I’d pay money to see that.

Not sure there is a factual answer for your question, so I’ll throw out my opinion along with the others posed here.

The answer is that most Americans are stupid. They gravitate towards soundbites and tend to believe what they hear. Polls and history have proven this to be true. The candidates just work the system that exists. They attribute blame and claim responsibility for lots of things outside of their own control. It’s called politics.

underline added. Watch this and be very afraid.

Moved to Elections.

General Questions Moderator

Pointing out examples of other lying and manipulative industries doesn’t make the first one “reasonable” or okay.

And there’s your answer. Lying and manipulation works, advertising has proved that for over a century, and the people vying for power use those same techniques to manipulate the voting public. And it has always been this way, it’s just getting more sophisticated and systematic over time.

I don’t know if I’d say most of them are stupid, but it’s a fact that half of them are below average intelligence. (And you know how stupid the average person is).

I think we are not responding correctly to the OP. The OP isn’t asking why candidates do it, but why we seem to let it go unchallenged. First of all, 90% of Americans are not looking for the truth, they are looking for affirmation of their beliefs. That’s why conservatives watch Fox and liberals watch MSNBC. The other folks are a small minority and tend to be made up folks who are easily swayed or extremely disinterested. Sure there is a small group of pure truth-seekers, but they hardly move the needle.