YouTube debates offer little insight

The debates don’t change what questions are asked and how they’re answered.

The Republican candidates are set to meet Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the second installment of the CNN/YouTube debates. These debates are the first to feature questions from the public which are submitted in video form to CNN, via YouTube, which selects certain ones to present to the candidates. Thus far, 4,900 video questions have been submitted. The new format has garnered about as much attention as the candidates themselves. The format is praised as the next step in debate evolution and damned as another platform for political rhetoric. Whichever you lean toward, don’t expect much enlightenment.

Quick wit and eloquent responses ensure the candidates’ survival in broadly televised debates, rather than direct responses that go beyond talking points. These in-party debates are supposed to allow voters to choose within their party which candidate suits them. Said otherwise, the questions picked for the Republicans will most likely be questions posed by other Republicans. The same can be said of the Democratic debate in June. These visual spectacles hardly offer voters real insight, and the videos, like the one by a snowman from Minneapolis, seem to be as entertaining as watching the candidates scramble for floor time.

The YouTube debates don’t seem to change much about how the candidates answer their questions, or what kinds of questions are posed. Certainly the pundits were quoted as saying that the new debate was “democracy at light-speed.” The first YouTube debate didn’t really reveal much more about the candidates than traditional debates. The answers were rehearsed rhetoric, hardly offering deep insight into the candidates’ proposals.

The problem with debates that generate money for a certain channel, like CNN and YouTube, is that there is virtually no criticism of the format itself. Debates held by interest groups, that give each candidate individual time with a panel, offer a more in-depth look into the stance of a candidate on a particular issue. The quick-fire style debates that gain the most attention on big channels only give the audience a look at who can give the most formulaic response.