On YouTube, I watched a 1988 Presidential election debate that was moderated by Tom Brokaw. Or, actually, it was two debates: it alternated between a debate among the Democratic primary candidates, and one among the Republican primary candidates.
It’s definitely worth watching! Here are intelligent people engaging in a wonkish discussion of the issues. Usually, they’re tactful and respectful to each other, and, when they have an opportunity to ask another candidate a question, they are simply giving the other candidate a chance to express his point-of-view on an issue, rather than attacking. But there are some attacks: Al Gore asks why Dick Gephardt voted for the Reagan tax cut, Al Haig quizzes George Bush about Bush’s possible role in Iran-Contra, etc.
There are also some surprises. Pete Du Pont is defending his proposal for private Social Security accounts, which George Bush, Bob Dole, and Jack Kemp attack. This was ironic, considering that Bush’s son, George W. Bush, would be a major proponent of private Social Security accounts as President. Then there was the exchange about school choice between Pete Du Pont and Pat Robertson. Du Pont is defending school choice, and Robertson responds that he’s for it, too, as long as it does not discriminate against the poor and minorities. I was impressed by Robertson’s sensitivity to this issue, since it has been widely held that the religious right originated from an attempt to defend private schools from policies against racial discrimination. But I probably shouldn’t be too surprised by what Robertson said, since he did spend his early days in ministry in the inner-cities.
I respected each candidate in these debates, for various reasons: Michael Dukakis’ technocratic emphasis on balancing the budget, Dick Gephardt’s defense of his vote for the Reagan tax cuts (he said that he feared that a recession was coming, and he also noted that the tax cuts went to the middle-income, too), Al Gore’s criticism of the Reagan tax cuts as unequal, Jesse Jackson’s description of the plight of the working poor, Paul Simon’s support for government spending to bring people jobs, the other Democratic candidates’ criticism of Simon’s plan as pie-in-the-sky, Bruce Babbitt’s lament about a company that paid its workers less while giving management huge bonuses, the Republican candidates who were concerned about human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, George Bush’s humor and defense of Oliver North, Pat Robertson’s sensitivity to the needs of the elderly when it comes to health care and nursing homes, the Republicans’ debate over whether Social Security truly was solvent (Robertson and Du Pont said that it still had plenty of IOUs, while Dole and Bush said it was solvent), and the list goes on. You can probably tell that I can admire one candidate for defending a certain position, and another candidate for attacking that very same position that the first candidate holds. That’s because I don’t believe that issues, policy proposals, and people are totally right or totally wrong: in many cases, they have their advantages and their disadvantages. There are plenty of shades of gray and dimensions of reality.
In any case, you can watch the debate here. Enjoy!