To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, October 19, 1996

An argument against arguing

DEBATES have been an accepted form of American political campaigning since long before Lincoln and Douglas squared off, but it's time to reconsider whether watching a debate is the best way to decide how, or whether, to vote.

Skill in debate, after all, has ceased being a job qualification, even for a seat in the Hawaii Legislature. After all, there's no give and take on pending bills on the floors of the House and Senate. That's all been replaced by deals cut behind closed doors. Unless the GOP can increase its House membership from seven to 11 this election, there won't even be roll-call voting next session, let alone debate.

Executive office holders - be they governors, mayors or presidents - don't spend much time debating their positions. Twisting arms, yes; debating, no. A schmooze-off might be a better test of qualifications than a debate.

Challengers always come on like pit bulls attacking the incumbents' records. That's a safe strategy, especially if you have no record of your own. A steady diet of gotchas, however, wears very hard on the electorate.

Political scientists say negative campaigning works, but it hurts voter turnout. Watching two rivals trash each other's records, ideas, character and managerial skills for an hour or two leaves the average voter feeling neither candidate is worth his or her vote.

That's bad for democracy. If you don't believe it, I challenge you to a debate.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509,
e-mail to
or write to P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

© copyright 1996, Honolulu Star-Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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