Do Debates Even Matter in This Election?

Do Debates Even Matter in This Election? Author: Tom Luongo for Gold, Goats and Guns

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Last night’s debate was universally panned as many things not suitable for virgin ears. Honestly, I don’t disagree.

I had no plans on watching it because they are almost always uninteresting, low-information theater. Last night was no exception.

Both camps are doing their best to put the best spin on it they can but a couple of observations I think are salient:

  1. Biden was as good as he was ever going to be
  2. Trump was as bad as he could possibly have been
  3. Chris Wallace was there to make sure Biden stayed on script
  4. The format and questions were all softballs for Biden

In that context here’s the big question for partisans (of which I’m one), “Do these debates even matter?” And my cynical answer is, “No. They don’t.”

But the more nuanced one is that yes, they do. They matter for one important reason.

People don’t vote based on what candidates say but how they say what they say.

That’s why televised debates are such an important part of a campaign and why they can be turning points in an election.

Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind, laid out a metaphor for how the brain processes information and communicates it to the world.

It boils down to the Elephant and the Rider. Your hindbrain or right-brain is the Elephant. It’s the unconscious mind which makes all the real decisions.

The Rider is the forebrain or left-brain and it’s like the press secretary for the Elephant. It thinks it’s in charge, pulling on the reins of what it’s convinced itself is a quarter-horse directing your behavior and your decisions.

It tells you, and more importantly the world, that you’re rational and that you are consciously in control of your decisions.

But the reality is The Rider sits on top of The Elephant who is charging ahead because it’s already made its decision.

The Rider then just makes up why as The Elephant tramples forward.

Why is this important to the debates?

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