With that in mind, Brown was apprehensive about the final
presidential debate on Oct. 22 given the atmosphere of the previous
one, which Brown said was “more of a food fight.” While acknowledging
a low bar, his takeaway from the final debate is that it was a much
better performance for both President Donald Trump and his challenger,
former Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is what you expect from a presidential debate, where you
learned some things and possibly helped undecided voters make up their
minds because they could hear what each candidate said this time,”
said Brown, who is also executive director of the Speech Lab and
faculty advisor to the Debate Club.
“I would say that it was much more civil and organized," he
said. "There was more self-control and much more adherence to
time limits, which helped the debate progress.”
He also credited moderator Kristen Welker for her fair questions and
stoic demeanor while effectively managing time limits and the
interaction between the candidates. Brown also thought the mute button
worked even if it was a deterrent, limiting cross talk.
The need for a mute button is an indication of how unruly debates
have gotten in general, he said, with almost an entertainment
component. “Basically, we have turned our presidential and political
debate into sporting events.”
Two overriding forces are at work, Brown said -- debate structure and
the mood and expectations of the current electorate.
Brown said the debate structure needs reform, in particular because
debates are trying to cover too much ground in too short of time.
Also, the partisan nature of much of the American electorate means
there is a premium on scoring easy points for voters to feed on, he said.
Brown said students in his class tend to be turned off by that
atmosphere as well as the time limits of the formats. He said they
want to see more time devoted to something as important as health
care, noting influencer tutorials on social media often last longer
than the amount of time devoted to such crucial topics during a debate.
In reality, a superficial element to debates dawned once they started
being televised, Brown said, noting the well-known outcome of the
first presidential debate in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F.
Kennedy. Those who listened on the radio tended to think Nixon did
better, while those watching on TV thought Kennedy did.
For Brown’s debate students, even though they aren’t seeing the true
parliamentary style of debate in action in politics, they do have an
opportunity to consider the forces that have made modern debates
“I think it’s important as a class that we talk about why things have
become this way and what we can do to remedy it,” Brown said.