Service of Debates: Is This The Way to Pick the Best Candidate?

February 24th, 2020

Categories: Debates, Elections, Politicians, Politics


The flaws of the debate system to chose a presidential candidate reminds me of one of my business experiences where a person with the gift of gab may not have been a client’s best choice. Here’s the story. A longtime client wanted to initiate a special project. I submitted my idea but another agency won. [I kept the retainer business for years after that.]


The woman who presented the winning idea–a nationwide consumer contest–was one of the best speakers I’ve heard. Turned out implementation was not her–or her marketing agency’s–strong suit. And the idea itself, without a marketing or advertising budget to support it, from a little known organization, was flawed. In addition, there was money to run the contest only one time and it can take years for such a project to gain momentum.

The prizes for the winner involved generous donations of product. Turned out the agency didn’t know a soul in the industry so my client asked me to make introductions. Gritting my teeth while smiling, I did.

Once the expensive failure was over it was time to send the contest winner–one of only 30 entrants [!]–the goods worth $100,000 at retail.


The cherry on the stale cake came over the phone again, this time from the project agency. They needed my help. When they reached out to the primary manufacturer-doner with the winner’s name and address for shipping the prize they learned that the person they’d previously worked with was no longer with the company. Nobody else at the company knew what they were talking about.

“No problem,” said I, “this is a reputable company–just send them your correspondence and agreement.” The reply, “There isn’t any. We never confirmed the donation in writing; only on the phone.” Huh?

So what does this business kerfuffle have to do with debates of presidential contenders? Just because someone has a quick tongue or makes a slip-of-one, should they earn or lose anyone’s vote? [For the purpose of this post I have simplified my example. There was politics–if you’ll excuse the expression– involved in the choice of project. The committee wanted to back one of their associates’ contacts, the glossy if defective, marketing company.]

Further, debates don’t always identify the best public speakers. Remember the one in which Barack Obama fell on his face? He subsequently became the best presidential orator of modern time. Do you think debates are the best way to evaluate the candidate that will get your vote?

Photo: washingtonmonthly.



8 Responses to “Service of Debates: Is This The Way to Pick the Best Candidate?”

  1. Kathleen Said:

    Debating is a skill. which some folks have and others won’t ever have. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Elizabeth Warren was an excellent debater in high school, winning a statewide contest with her partner. I think she won a scholarship to college for her debating skills. She debates well, something she’s really good at. Bloomberg, on the other hand, is not a debater. But the image folks see of these two candidates is how they perform on the debating platform. How many people take the time to really study what the debaters are claiming. Not too many, I fear. So, you’re right, debates aren’t the way to decide who’s the best candidate. But I doubt we’ll ever see them disappear.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Al Gore seemed to be tongue-tied throughout his presidential campaign, resembling a cardboard silhouette of himself. The moment the heat was off and Bush was declared President and he began speaking exclusively about the environment suddenly he became silver-tongued.

    I didn’t know that about E. Warren….If this isn’t something that comes easily to you all your advisors warning you to say this “just like this” and not say “that” ever and “don’t touch your check” and “do move around your hand” must drive a person nuts.

    One thing that would help: campaigns should be months, not years long. That will never happen because of the $millions spent for campaigns from printing and advertising to space rental and travel. Which also means that my second idea is doomed: No more than $X can be spent by any candidate.

  3. JBS Said:

    I’d argue that Obama was not “the best presidential orator of the modern time.” He certainly doesn’t compare to Lincoln, although that may not be the “modern time.” I think I’d list Kennedy as the best “modern time” president.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Kennedy was also a great speaker. Let’s call it a draw. Other things both men had in their favors were remarkably good looks, beautiful families, youth and smarts.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: There’s no best way to pick a given candidate, but debates help by shedding a light on ability to stand up under intense pressure. The last tumultuous event was telling. Not one contestant backed down. Shortly after the event I ran into a neighbor whose evaluation of matters is worth repeating: “I like Biden, but also the little fella who kept on yelling!”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I haven’t spent time to think of a better way to evaluate candidates. Since people no longer read anything longer than a photo caption, communications involving that sense are out of the question. I would hope that the Dem Party would be working on ideas as its candidates trash one another with abandon creating a mess for each and every one. People who love to watch boxing or professional wrestling must be having a wonderful time but not me. Last night’s debate turned my stomach. The moderators had zero control over the situation–it was a stomach-churning disgrace. I saw zero presidential qualities on display.

  7. Martin Johnson Said:

    Martin wrote on Facebook: These are not debates in the classic sense, but rather a stress test for candidates enabling voters to discriminate among the contenders. Being an articulate, improvisational speaker helps. Trouble is that substance can be manipulated by style, though the perfect politician has both.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A friend just suggested town hall meetings until there are only 2 candidates standing at which point the debates may begin. Given the nasty turn these events have taken this suggestion makes sense.

    I’m so far from hoping for the perfect politician right now. My druthers are simple: I’d like one that causes the current resident in the WH to serve one term.

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