The insistence on declaring a “winner” in presidential debates has always irritated me. In arguments over philosophy, ideology or morality, what counts as “winning”? Back in high school forensics, we walked into speech-and-debate tournaments ready to argue either side, fully aware that the judges evaluated logical consistency, command of the material, originality of arguments, and presentation – not who was right. To “win on points” was a meaningful phrase, because someone was keeping score.
Today’s presidential debates don’t even have a consistent standard for accuracy, and “winning on points” just means you came out ahead in a very high-level battle of the dozens. Very well, never mind: it’s exactly like high school except then we trusted the judges, because “zingers” and moments of special fluency, and not truth, are what seems to sway voters. Voters are not, for instance, undecided on the question of whether across-the-board tax cuts are a good idea. (In fact, they seem set against them when you ask directly.)