Our Poet Muses On The State Of Presidential Debates

Listen Now
Photo: Gunnison, Colorado poet David Rothman
Colorado Matters' resident poet, David Rothman.

Colorado Matters' resident poet David Rothman has been thinking a lot about the 2016 presidential debates and about debates of years past. It prompted his latest composition "Let's Have Real Debates Again."

Let's Have Real Debates Again

By David Rothman

And now, between soap operas and ads,
Between reality nonsense and sports,
After the news, before the latest fads,
Competing with cartoons, special reports,

And on and on, into this universe
With no discernible relationship
To anything that is not bad or worse,
Producers somehow find the time to skip

That trash and insert talk that really matters:
The candidates for US President
In pointed conversation, poised like batters
Who aim to hit the ball of argument.

There they stand, in glorious array
Next to their little desks, prepared to speak.
The lights come up, the camera pans away,
The crowd applauds, and in a scene unique

To our democracy, we are invited
To listen to the flower of our nation
Address a crowd apparently delighted
By scandal, fear, rage and exasperation.

All year they’ve done this, fielding silly questions,
Striving for the sound bite that insults
Enough to make the blogs, even the best ones
Challenged to impersonate adults.

And now, the gilded nominees locked in,
We stumble pre-election to our screens
To watch a season of "debates" akin
To a lame quiz show on amphetamines.

For long gone is the semblance of "debate."
Recall that when Lincoln and Douglas met
Upon their stage in 1858,
No one watched it on the internet

Or on TV, those sinister platforms that make
Everything they touch into a form
Of entertainment, so someone can rake
In cash. Our past is flawed, but it was warm:

You had to be there or to read the news.
It wasn’t like a show of "Family Feud,"
Or Jerry Springer on a short, cold fuse.
It did not entertain by being lewd.

Each candidate would open with a speech
Of a full hour, the other would reply
For ninety minutes, then to make sure each
Had had fair say, the first would justify

For thirty minutes. They addressed each other
Point counterpoint, not some talk-show host
Who fires off random questions that just smother
Coherent thinking on what matter most.

It’s not as though there wasn’t passion there.
The speakers pressed their case with fire and zeal,
But they made arguments, not mere hot air.
Their rhetoric engaged, at length, the real.

And we too face real challenges and choices,
On trade, guns, tax codes, climate change and ISIS,
Income disparity, Black lives’ voices,
Immigrants, the student-loan debt crisis,

Good jobs, fair laws, access to education,
Pipelines, clean water, crime, prosperity,
Health policy and banking regulation,
Our brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

It’s more than anyone can start to gauge
In two minutes of ADD eruption,
Slogans, whiz-bang insults, sound-bite rage,
Coarse gossip, allegations of corruption,

Self-righteous character assassination,
Unfounded claims and charges, yelling, smears,
Sex talk and finger pointing, bloviation,
Innuendos, smirks, half-facts and sneers.

Although…we only have ourselves to blame.
Impatient for a reel of "gotcha" clips
Instead of arguments, we troll for fame,
Courting democracy’s apocalypse.

So here’s a thought. In the hard aftermath
Of yelling "Make America great again,"
Or else "Stronger together," when that wrath
Has cooled off, if we can…let us then

Sit down and contemplate a different creed,
In which true conversation matters more
Than any news bite, given our true need.
After all – we have done this before;

We could do it again. It just takes will.
Let candidates speak out their slates again,
Face to face, and let them speak their fill.
For our sake, let’s have real debates again.