Friday, November 21, 2008

The problem with a presidential debate

A COMELEC commissioner wants compulsory debates for candidates. I’m with him. I want one. But I’m not sure it’ll do what he or I hope it’ll do.

We wanted one last 2004 but GMA didn’t want anyone questioning her achievements, FPJ didn’t want anyone questioning his credentials, and Lacson only wanted to debate with either of the top two in surveys (refusing to be lumped with the “laggards”), leaving only Roco and Villanueva – a debate which would have settled the question: kaninong pagkatalo tayo mas manghihinayang? and little else.

But will it help people make better choices?

The sad truth is people don’t make decisions based on questions of policy, preferring instead to side with those candidates that they “feel” for. (A study in 2004 used the term napupusuan.) Erap Estrada, who was neither mabait nor matalino (nor part of the masa for that matter) managed to capture the hearts of the poor despite a distinct lack of eloquence. People want someone they can relate to instead of someone smarter than they are.

A debate might only fuel the anti-intellectualism that manifests whenever someone smart verbally beats an idiot. Nevermind if they’re actually supposed to be educated, we feel for the poor idiot almost every time.

Ernie Maceda once wiped the Senate floor with Ramon Revilla when he asked him about the rankings of government officials.* And while my father and I applauded Maceda then (perhaps the only time we did), the general consensus was one of pity (awa) for Revilla Sr.

In a sane society we would’ve been outraged at Revilla’s ignorance of something taught at the grade school level. But no.

The problem with debate is that it’s appreciated mostly by people who use good reasoning and rhetoric and are proud to be associated with smart people. Idiots who can barely speak much less explain themselves will identify more with the one getting trounced, unless he’s mayabang, in which case they’ll say buti nga.

A presidential debate in the Philippines in this post-modern age means none of us know what the ultimate goal is.

Is it to “win” the debate, meaning be the best speaker and present the most logical arguments? Or is it to score sympathy points with the audiences, which doesn’t necessarily mean coming off smart, just adorable (the Palin strategy)? Or maybe it’s just to look good on TV?

My fear is that it might affect some of the better candidates’ chances. But that shouldn’t be too big a problem. If they’re good enough they can find time to prepare. Else let’s get ready to let the pretty idiots keep this country.

* Alin ang mas mataas, Governor or Congressman? To which Revilla answered something like: Napapapunta ng Governor ang Congressman sa opisina niya kaya sa palagay ko mas mataas ang Governor. 


Ben-Ariel said...

I think there should be two mandatory debates. One in English and one in Pilipino. The English debate will be the more formal type while the debate in Pilipino will be less formal and more of "town hall" type in which the audience can ask questions. Err.. barangay hall pala.

I'm thinking this, in some way, allows different class segments to get more interested in discussions on policy. Hopefully.

missingpoints said...

Another thought: to do any of those properly we need at most only three candidates.