The Argument for Continuing Political Debates

unprecedented presidential debate leaves nation stunned

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

An opinion article in The Philadelphia Inquirer article looked at the pros and cons of presidential debates. Are they still necessary in our political climate?

Presidential debate podium
For the Americans who follow the track records and positions of politicians who run for office, the question would be whether the televised presidential debates provide any new information. Photo By Derek Brumby / Shutterstock

The debate for the 2020 general election was “one marked by interruptions, [and] a lack of decorum” The Philadelphia Inquirer article said. “In the current era of hyperpolarized and media-driven campaigns, some may claim that debates are no longer necessary.”

Provided that the president makes a full and speedy recovery from COVID-19, the purpose of presidential debates, in general, will likely remain a point of contention. There are several factors of debate to consider.

A Healthy Debate

Every day, people find themselves in arguments. Often, they get heated and the arguers find themselves simply waiting for their turn to speak rather than listening to the person on the other side of the controversy. Debate formalizes and structures conversations like this, whether it’s in a debate club in high school or between two presidential candidates.

“What debate does is require the participants to think through the other side of a proposition before they stand up to defend anything,” said Dr. Jarrod Atchison, Associate Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University. “The best debate happens when both sides have thoroughly researched the entire controversy and all the participants are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of everyone’s positions. That research can then make it clear where everyone agrees and where everyone disagrees about how to approach the controversy.”

Dr. Atchison said that debaters call this “finding the point of stasis.” Stasis, he said, comes from the Greek term for standing still. When two debaters understand exactly where they agree and disagree, they’ve found the point of stasis.

Benefits of Debating

One of the key benefits of conducting a formal debate, Dr. Atchison said, is that it improves the quality and quantity of arguments that are produced to be considered.

“If you are a leader in an organization, imagine how much more you could accomplish if each of your meetings was chock-full of the very best arguments about the controversy,” he said. “Imagine if, as the decision maker, you could be confident that everyone in the room knew the advantages and disadvantages of the various proposals under consideration. That is not a dream world; it can happen.”

Another benefit is that debate can create nuance. Dr. Atchison said that the interaction of ideas refines them and produces the “best version of everyone’s arguments.” Nuance appears when a debater tries to whittle away their opponent’s arguments, examining them in detail and with specifics.

For the current election year, and for future elections, if the presidential candidates engage each other cordially, the American people may very well see the benefits of debate materialize.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Jarrod Atchison contributed to this article. Dr. Atchison is an Associate Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University, where he teaches such courses as Argumentation Theory and Debate and Advocacy. He is also the Director of Debate for the Wake Forest University Debate Team, which dates back to 1835 and has won multiple national championships. Dr. Atchison received his PhD in Communication from the University of Georgia, where he served as an assistant debate coach.