Debate noise: Eliminate the audience

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Column by Jim Clark

After staggering through the many debates on both the Republican and Democratic side, I think I’ve got it analyzed pretty well.
The candidates are giving us name calling, finger pointing, constant insults, making disparaging remarks, etc. Each time the audience likes what the candidate says, they cheer wildly. If they disagree, you hear a lot of hissing and booing.
These reactions bog down the debates, causing candidates and moderators alike to pause until they can be heard.
Frankly, it’s disgraceful behavior which is casting a pall over the process. So I’ve got what I consider a logical solution.
Get rid of the audience.
That’s right. Just hold the debates in TV studios where access could be limited. The candidates, moderators and TV tech people should be the only ones in the room.
If it’s necessary to have families and party officials there, find another room in the same facility or rent a hall nearby. In that hall would be the families and staff of the candidates, and members of the media, both local and national.
That’s it. Close the room to everyone else.
Right now, the candidates are playing to the audience. They think, and possibly they’re right, that a positive reaction from the audience will mean a positive reaction from those watching at home.
Without the audience, the candidates would have to play to the viewers, not the backers and cheerleaders sitting in what we used to call the Peanut Gallery.
Without the crowd, we could hear all the questions from the moderators and all the answers.
Without the crowd, Ben Carson might hear himself introduced so he could get out on stage on time instead of standing there watching other candidates pass him by.
Without the crowd, maybe the candidates would know when their time is up and they would stop talking ... well, maybe not.
Without the crowd, the folks at home might get a real look at how the candidates are presenting their arguments. Search the Internet for “debate grade” and you can print out a chart from one of the sites, a chart that would let you grade the debate, if it really were a debate.
Let me clarify that. A real debate has an affirmative side and a negative side. Each presents arguments, and judges can grade the performance.
Candidates firing barbs back and forth is not a debate. It’s a political forum, which is entirely different.
If you’ve ever been to a real judged debate, you find a respectful audience sitting there absorbing what is going on. In the current “debates,” the audience tries to inject itself into the proceedings, and that may sway what viewers think they’re observing.
But whether it’s a debate or forum, let’s banish the audience to another location. Then maybe a little decorum will enter the room where the candidates are located ... or maybe not.

Jim Clark is the editor of the West Marion Messenger and South Marion Citizen.