Just returned from East End Civic Association "Meet the Candidate Night." This was my fourth or fifth such extravaganza of this busy electoral season. Credit the good people of the association for trying to educate their loyal membership and members of the general public regarding the policies and personalities at stake on election day, November 2.
However, tonight I believe I have discerned a curious new custom permeating the political landscape, in events as diverse as those of the League of Women Voters of Mamaroneck and of New Rochelle, several neighborhood and civic groups and Temple Beth El and Temple Israel of New Rochelle. Have you noticed that every one of the recent "candidates night" events for local, state and federal office (without a single exception to the best of my knowledge) has stated as its procedural policy (explicitly or in effect) that the occasion is for the presentation of views only and not an opportunity for "debate?"
Seems that the prevailing new format is as follows: Candidate A, the incumbent and Candidate B, the challenger, state their platforms; temple brotherhood or church men's club president C takes written questions from the audience D, edits them for substantive content and potential for slander (and who knows what else?) and then offers the strained pabulum to the assembled guests A and B to answer. So, no opportunity for the spontaneous questioning, the calculated grandstanding and the fevered responses of the candidates; just a carefully controlled and contrived "meeting of friends," formulated perfectly for the sponsoring institution to show its civic commitment and for the incumbent and challenger to evade their traditional obligation to entertain, enthrall, enlighten or simply embarrass themselves and the public in response to the audience and to each other.
Is this what our Founding Fathers, and the Greatest Generation of the twentieth century marched off to war for? Is this the informed, spirited and tumultuous give-and-take that we have come to expect of our messy but ultimately informative democratic electoral process?
No repartee between the political combatants, no follow-up questioning from the audience, no fact-checking or checking for consistency by the claimed moderator. Tell me, since when did opposing candidates for public office start exchanging views without any opportunity for questioning one another or without provision for the challenging of statements by the audience? When did the public decide to accept such formulaic posturing as a substitute for classic American political oratory and the accompanying disputation and rebuttal?
Was this a policy adopted by agreement of all parties for some odd public purpose which no one has explained for the benefit of the same public? Or was this decided by the sponsoring organization (s) for some other odd public purpose which no one has explained for the benefit of the very same public's benefit?
All I can determine is that someone or some non-profit body, enjoying the benefit of favorable IRS rules and regulations, operating for the benefit of the public has decided that active and animated exchanges of opinion, or more precisely "a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers" (definition of "debate" #2, in the online Random House Dictionary (2010)) is not to be permitted in electoral contests in Westchester County, New York some 221 years after the adoption of our Constitution and 234 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Will someone please explain exactly what it is that the various "presentation sponsors" know about the workings of popular government and of the advisability of encouraging a resolute traffic in ideas and opinions that our Founding Fathers missed? I think it is incumbent upon all of us in the waning days of this campaign season to question and protest these artificial "rules of engagement" that have been erected for no public benefit that I can determine, and for no other discernible purpose whatsoever other than to protect the continued occupancy of various legislative and administrative positions by the current class of nearly-permanent incumbents.
In light of the sorry state of our managed national economy, the corrupt administration of New York State's executive office and upper and lower legislative houses, and the general bankruptcy of the former "Empire" state's treasury, has our professional political class really earned this escape from scrutiny? By what right do they enjoy this safe-conduct pass?