If you’re not careful, watching one of the presidential debates that begin this week could leave you spending 90 minutes to get nothing more than sound bites. However, with a little work, voters can take something from the debates between President George W. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry.
The debates begin Thursday in Coral Gables, Fla. Bush and Kerry also will debate Oct. 8 in St. Louis and Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz. Vice President Dick Cheney and Kerry running mate Sen. John Edwards will debate Oct. 5 in Cleveland.
Here are some suggestions for informed viewing offered by university professors in Ohio. We think they’re on target for eastern New Mexico and Texas Panhandle voters as well:
• Do your homework, before the debates if possible. The first debate will focus on international issues, so the war on terror and the war in Iraq are likely topics. The second debate is a town hall meeting. The third debate between Bush and Kerry will feature domestic issues.
• Use the Internet. Start with the candidates’ Web sites to get familiar with their positions.
Bush’s Web site is at: www.georgewbush.com
Kerry’s Web site: www.johnkerry.com
We recommend Web sites of other candidates as well, though Bush and Kerry will be the only candidates participating in the televised debates.
Michael Badnarik’s Web site: www.badnarik.org
Ralph Nader’s Web site: www.votenader.org
• Don’t listen for sound bites. Listen for substance, for specifics about proposed policy. Bush and Kerry are going to drag out stories of individual people benefiting or suffering. They’re going to say things that fit in headlines. Get past these. Focus on the substance, not the emotions.
• Ignore the repetitiveness. The candidates will say the same things over and over — in debates, TV commercials and speeches. Look for evidence. The fact that you hear something over and over again doesn’t make it true.
• Ignore the exaggerations. Each candidate will claim their position is the best and that most Americans would agree with it. Be skeptical.
n Base your opinion on what you think, not what the candidates say others think or what the candidates say you should think. Bush and Kerry will present “evidence” for their positions. Keep in mind that both have researchers who find evidence of what they’re looking for, not the objective results voters should demand.
• Watch the focus. Watch to see if Bush and Kerry get away from questions and go to their stump speeches. Both candidates have agenda items they want to get out, and they’re going to try to shift the focus.
• Turn off the television when the debates are over. Talk to a friend or do your own analysis, but don’t listen to post-debate commentators. Don’t rely on CNN or Fox to tell you who won the debate. Decide for yourself.