The Instigator
rwebberc
Pro (for)
Winning
25 Points
The Contender
Concerned
Con (against)
Losing
15 Points

Today's Extreme Partisan Politics is Bad For American Democracy

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/2/2008 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,130 times Debate No: 1269
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
Votes (12)

 

rwebberc

Pro

Today's political atmosphere has become so polarizing that Americans are dropping out of the democratic process like flies. The US State Department defines democracy as "government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system". But today, people are so turned off by the antagonistic political division that the vast majority of people don't vote. In the 1960 election, 63 percent of eligible Americans voted in the presidential election. In 2008, the election which has been deemed the most important election of our lifetimes by many, some experts predict that voter turnout could be as low as 30%.

According to Princeton professor Markus Prior, who tracks political preferences and the media, roughly 20% of the population are political junkies: people who watch the O'Reilly Factor or Hardball, listen to talk radio, and feel passionately about their political views. Then there is the rest of the poulation: people who would rather watch primetime dramas, play videogames, watch a movie, browse Myspace, or pretty much do anything besides talk about or learn about politics. These are the people who used to be the political moderates, the "swing voters", if you will. Now they are simply disenfranchised. Partisanship is nothing new, in fact it offers people clearer, more distinct choices between parties. But today's hyperpartisanship has become poisonous, and it is killing off our population of voters.
Concerned

Con

I agree that the percentage of Americans involved it the electoral process is declining. However, I don't see partisan politics as the reason for the lack of participation. In fact, I sense most Americans see the 2 primary political parties as ineffective imitations of each other. The parties do claim to have different platforms neatly arranged around divisive issues, but time has proved the issues are mostly a smokescreen designed to capture a vote. In fact, both parties have consistently failed to address and satisfy the real needs of the American people. I contend both parties answer to a different master, and that they may or may not represent the needs of the people depending on the convergence of these separate interests.

A recent case in point is the 2006 elections where the Dems inferred an end to the war, but have failed to deliver once they won control over the congress. There is a lot of rhetoric, but no substantial action. In fact, our engagement in the war has increased since that election. The people voted, but it did not matter!

The reference to the Republicrat party is decades old, but it speaks volumes of the people's perception of the 2 parties. Political infighting is a sham. The partisan dog and pony show is the ultimate spin designed to confuse the electorate with the appearance of difference. Unfortunately, the American people are not stupid and know both parties have a history of abandoning the people for the deeper, more reliable pockets of lobbyists and corporate America. Hence, they control their frustration by not condoning the farce with their votes.

Further evidence of this lack of confidence is the rapid growth in the number of deserters from both parties who salvage their dignity by choosing to register as Independents. None the less the 2 parties persist in their efforts to win votes. Both are presently obsessed with being recognized as the party of change, but if you listen in on the debates of the presidential contenders, the only change that is apparent is the position they take when addressing different audiences. The real problem with voter apathy is the stigma that says my vote does not matter, and until the problem of genuine representation is solved, voter participation will continue to decline.
Debate Round No. 1
rwebberc

Pro

First of all, Concerned, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful response. I am glad to see that this will be an intelligent, thought-provoking debate. But I must take issue with your claim that dissatisfaction is the driving force behind the dismally low amount of Americans taking part in the democratic process.

Since the 1960's, negative campaigning has grown exponentially, with attack ads and smear campaigns giving voters a negative impression of the political process as a whole. Television has been the greatest contributor to the rise in nasty campaigning. National news has brought once hidden aspects of campaigns into the light. Deception and manipulation are as popular in today's campaign ads as claims about a candidate's policies and leadership skills. Negative campaigning has been around since the early 1800's. However, as one-time presidential speechwriter Richard Goodwin puts it, "you can't compare a nasty quote about Thomas Jefferson with the intensity and penetration of today's attacks". It should come as no surprise that in a culture which laps up sensationalism, candidates have an easier time tearing down their opponent's image than talking about their own platform. But as these attacks grow in prominence, the average voter has become weary of hearing about political campaigns. According to a poll conducted by the Kennedy School of Government, "Americans who believed that negative messages are a defining feature of U.S. elections were less likely to discuss the campaign and to pay attention to news about it" (http://hnn.us...). When voters turn their attention away from campaigns and politics, voter turnout inevitably suffers.

In your first round you claimed that "A recent case in point is the 2006 elections where the Dems inferred an end to the war, but have failed to deliver once they won control over the congress." By your logic this should have hurt the Democrats in terms of voter confidence and the number of people who support them. But statistics show this is not the case. Polls show that the Democrats are far more satisfied with their party than they have been in the past, and are much more satisfied with their candidates than the Republicans (http://www.cbsnews.com...). Just as telling, polls show that the large block of Independent voters plan on voting Democrat this year (http://www.desmoinesregister.com...). The Democrats' failure to bring about the change they promised doesn't seem to have hurt them any with the voters.

While I agree that the disenchantment of the American public is a problem, this debate is about partisan politics. In another study done by the Harvard's JFK School of Government, it was found that Americans who believed that negative messages are a defining feature of U.S. elections were less likely to discuss the campaign and to pay attention to news about it, even when levels of income and education were controlled. Our nation has become so divided that we are willing to paint people who disagree with us as either knuckle-dragging, racist, NASCAR-obsessed, gun-fondling, inbred, religious nutjobs, or godless, unpatriotic, Communist, tofu-loving pedophiles; depending on which side of the spectrum you happen to be on. It's impossible to imagine the leaders of the two parties sitting down and sharing a drink, like Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill used to do. Instead of offering bipartisan solutions, the two sides offer up slogans like "Hillary is the antichrist" (http://mediamatters.org...), and "Bush is the greatest terrorist in the world" (http://www.msnbc.msn.com...). It is no wonder people are tuning out. Today's political atmosphere must change in order to get more Americans involved in the democratic process.
Concerned

Con

I would agree that negative campaigning acts as a detriment in the minds of many potential voters. I can not agree that it is the primary reason for the decline in voter participation. I think you mentioned that negativity has been present in politics since the early 1800's. I think historians can trace negativity to the dawn of democratic elections. It is a sad, but necessary part of the political process. Politics truly is a dirty business and it is not for the faint of heart. We have hopefully reached a point of higher civility where the arguments do not result in frequent assassinations, duels and other physically damaging acts. The process of pursuing power ranks at the top of human pursuits and those who successfully engage in this endeavor know full well the importance of using every tool in the shed. True, many of these revelations are dirty, nebulous, half truths, innuendo, spin and frequently out right lies, but some of the accusations are true and worthy of consideration. In a utopian society, perhaps this element of the election process might be eliminated, but in the real world of today's dynamic politics, it is an integral part of the process. Think of this ugly business this way. For the better part of a year, the presidential candidates have largely steered clear of negativity and attempted to present their positions on a number of various issues. I have watched as a candidate came up with a new take on an issue that was soon imitated by another candidate. It has become repetitive, boring and all the sameness has failed to produce an evident front runner. Negativity and the ability to handle just and unjust claims seems to be the final differentiators between the candidates who may or not believe in the positions they have advocated. Viewing this process as a voter gives one an interesting perspective on the character of both the attacker and the recipient of the attack. How one handles themselves in the contest of verbal abuse can be quite revealing of the leadership qualities of the candidates. Negative campaigning may be disheartening, but like anything else disagreeable, it can be made a source of valuable information.

I repeat my contention that the major cause of voter apathy is the failure of elected officials to properly represent the people. It is difficult to continue to support a system that inevitably will not respond to the needs of the people. The rapid growth of the non-party Independent group is perhaps the greatest sign of voter fatigue. These Independents vote, but openly reject affiliation with the Democrats and the Republicans because these parties have openly failed the democratic process. Add to the Independent movement the tens of millions who feel so disenfranchised that they do not even bother to register, and I believe you develop a massive majority of American people who are fed up with the way our government responds to the people. Consider also the numerous polls which continually indicate the approval rates of congress and the presidency in the high teens to the mid 30's. and the evidence is clear that the people do not feel they are represented. During the Boston Tea Party, the revolutionaries proclaimed that "Taxation without representation is tyranny". Today the battle cry might be "Taxation with nefarious representation is a fraud against the American people and the democratic process". Democracy in the USA might be declining, but it is not due to partisan politics, but rather the failure of representative government.
Debate Round No. 2
rwebberc

Pro

As far as this debate is concerned, I think it should be noted that my opponent accepts the pro position in the first sentence of his previous argument.

You mention the fact that negative campaigns are as old as politics itself. But as I said, never before has it been used as often as in the modern era. Candidates used to run on platforms and promises. Recently, we have seen John Kerry get "swiftboated" and John McCain get swindled out of a nomination by political "mastermind" Karl Rove. Negateive campaigning has also gotten more personal than in the past. Rudy Giuliani's mistress is now as much of a topic of conversation as his public record. The fact that Barack Obama's last name rhymes with Osama and he used to live in Indonesia has made him a target of lunatics like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

This leads me to my next point. Not only has negativity made its way into campaigning, it is part of our daily political routines. Every day, millions of viewers turn on Fox News and hear Sean Hannity declaring that liberals are "pansies", Bill O'Reilly telling us that the left is anti-Christmas, and Ann Coulter using every derogatory word she can think of for Democrats. Meanwhile the left is not much better. Keith Olbermann constantly belittles President Bush, sometimes referring to him as a terrorist, and talk show hosts such as Al Franken have convinced people that the Republican Party is full of nut jobs and corporate thieves. We have lost our way and our civility, and no one seems to be interested in finding either any more.

But this year does seem to be shaping up somewhat differently. With the Rove machine out of politics, this campaign has been much more positive and issue-oriented. As you put it: "For the better part of a year, the presidential candidates have largely steered clear of negativity and attempted to present their positions on a number of various issues." America seems to be tuning in to the fact that we may finally be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Record numbers of voters have turned out for both primaries thus far, proving that people are not turned off by politics in general, just politics as usual.
Concerned

Con

Nice try Pro, but my first sentence does not condone your argument that political negativity is the primary reason for voter apathy. I rest my case on my rebuttal in the second round as to the benefits and consequences of negative campaigning.

However, let me address your final points. Candidates still run on platforms and promises, but rarely deliver on the important issues of America when they are elected. It seems that elected officials have the luxury of "voting their conscience" in order to dismiss the needs of America. Somehow, many of our officials undergo a tremendous enlightenment, once elected, which inevitably causes them to desert the people. For this primary reason, the majority of Americans have tuned out the fickle politicians, and in the process have jeopardized the future of democracy. Yes, Kerry and McCain were undermined by negativity, but they essentially defeated themselves by their inability to handle the political combat. As to Guliani, I think the information about the use of public funds for the benefit of his mistress is information which should be considered when evaluating him as a presidential contender. As I mentioned previously, negativity is a critical component in the electoral process which gives the discerning voter an opportunity to evaluate the character of both the attacker and the individual under attack.

As to the those who make their livings by delivering a constant stream of political nonsense, one only need recognize that they get paid for their ability to create controversy. They are simply a for profit part of the enormous spin machine that functions to confuse the masses. If you listen to anyone of them for too long, you are sure to become a basket case. Listen, analyze and learn, and you will come off a more understanding American.

And finally, please do not dismiss the relative tranquility of the last year as a sign of reduced negativity. Rather, this period was simply a warm up for the upcoming primaries which are sure to get down and dirty as the survivors attempt to eke out a victory. But, don't be alarmed as it is just politics as usual.

In the final analysis, Americans fail to participate because they do not feel they are represented. If and when our politicians are forced to understand the meaning of democracy, I am sure millions of Americans will return to the voting booths. They, like the mega corporations, special interests, lobbyists and influence peddlers , will finally have a dog in the race.
Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by Yraelz 9 years ago
Yraelz
Sometimes I find myself wishing there were structured arguments. This is one of those times. I almost would not be able to vote on this round without flowing it on some kind of notepad to see who dropped what but the con states in his second speech,

"I would agree that negative campaigning acts as a detriment in the minds of many potential voters. "

Taking a quick look at the resolution,

"Today's Extreme Partisan Politics is Bad For American Democracy"

I can see that the Con thereby concedes the resolution. Pro points this out and Con in response states,

"Nice try Pro, but my first sentence does not condone your argument that political negativity is the primary reason for voter apathy."

However the resolution clearly does not state "primary reason" it simply states, "is bad".

Thus I can see no choice but to vote Pro.
12 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Vote Placed by rwebberc 8 years ago
rwebberc
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Vote Placed by Yraelz 9 years ago
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