A framework for judging presidential debates

We should value substance over style.

Ronald Dixon

Last week, President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney sparred in their first debate at the University of Denver. After an hour and a half of debate, media pundits and political experts ultimately decided that Mitt Romney was the victor.

What did they factor in to their decision though? Were their decisions more swayed by factual arguments or simple political rhetoric?

Indeed, when I watched the debate, my reaction was that of amazement with Romney. This man, who many previously viewed as a boring technocrat, outperformed Obama rhetorically.

Does this mean that Romney should have won, though? The answer is no.

As a former high school debater and current debate coach, I understand how important it is to formulate rational arguments and master the art of persuasion. When putting together an argument, it consists of a few basic premises. First, there is a claim, which is the assertion that you are making. Then, it is the warrant, or the evidence to back up said claim. Finally, you tie that back to the actual debate and how it makes an impact.

Obama was able to do this well. He accurately pointed out that Romney would dismantle Medicare and replace it with a voucher system, which would transfer more costs onto senior citizens. He also addressed Romney’s tax plan, which would increase taxes on the populace while cutting them for the rich.  

In Romney’s case? Well, he brought back the Palin-esque “Death Panel”  argument, arguing that the $700 billion saved in both the Affordable Care Act and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan from Medicare are cuts to seniors  and that Obama’s policies have led to the killing of jobs. All of these claims, along with the many other claims during the debate, have been proven false by numerous fact-checkers.

And yet, despite numerous flawed political accusations, the media spun the debate toward Romney.

When watching the future debates, let us not look toward style and form but rather substance and function, a more meaningful and objective way to determine who triumphed over the other.