Longtime Mike Honda supporter and fundraiser Rich Robinson offers a humorous look at political debates in his recent column. But he sells the voters a little short.
He spends a lot of time deriding the “spin-doctors” and “political hacks” who provide the after-the-fact analysis. And he points out a series of famous and memorable debate mistakes.
However, Robinson dismisses the undecided voters who watch these debates as “ignorant or disingenuous,” suggesting that they make their decisions about who to vote for based on the candidates’ haircuts or ties.
This has not been my experience during the course of this campaign.
So far, I have visited and spoken with thousands of voters in the 17th Congressional District. They are deadly serious about this election and are eager to learn more about the candidates. They are exceedingly frustrated with a Congress caught up in total dysfunction. They want to see less partisanship in Washington and more progress on the critical challenges facing our country. They want to hear what the candidates have to say.
Candidate debates are an excellent opportunity for voters to learn more about the people who want to represent them in Washington. Debates allow them to hear the candidates’ ideas for the future in more than 30-second sound bites. They enable voters to judge for themselves each candidate’s energy and vision rather than having to rely exclusively on political mailers and TV ads.
Robinson reveals his real agenda at the end of his column, suggesting that “in races where one candidate is so strong (read: well-known), that to share a stage with their opponent is a waste of time.” In essence, he argues that longtime incumbents like Mike Honda are entitled to their seats without challenge or competition. They don’t have to earn the votes of their constituents. The less the voters learn or observe for themselves, the better.
It’s a pretty cynical view of what our democracy is all about.
On one issue, however, I’m in full agreement with Mr. Robinson: you can’t discuss serious matters or offer thoughtful solutions in one-minute sound bites. That’s why I have proposed that the debates in this election be more open and free flowing, so candidates have the time to explain their views and to ask questions of each other. This style of debate, adopted in recent presidential elections, has served the voters well.
Unfortunately, Congressman Honda has so far refused to engage in ANY debates, which is a disservice to the voters. Instead, he’s unleashed Mr. Robinson to discredit the value of debates.
It may be easy to make fun of the analysts and spin-doctors or to point out the gaffes that candidates have made along the way. But disrespecting the voters is no laughing matter. It’s an affront to our democracy, in which our representatives are accountable to the people. Refusing to participate in debates demonstrates weakness, not strength.
Ro Khanna is a Democratic candidate for Congress from California’s 17th District. He wrote this column for San Jose Inside.