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Presidential debates have changed over the years

By William Lewis

The long-awaited presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has taken place with both candidates claiming success. Both candidates showed considerable knowledge. However, there were important issues that could have been discussed more in detail, including homeland security, immigration and military preparedness. Hopefully, at the next debate these matters will be addressed more than they were this time.

Hillary Clinton seemed well prepared for the first debate. She spent at least several days preparing for it. Donald Trump did not seem to have too much preparedness for it.

Probably the best subject in terms of being well covered was trade. Clinton seemed to put Trump on the defensive in terms of personal issues, including releasing income-tax returns and his questioning of President Obama’s place of birth.

I think that national issues directly affecting the American people should have been paramount with the questions that the moderator asked. But the Clinton controversy about e-mails was only briefly mentioned.

All week long prior to the debate there were films shown on TV about previous presidential debates. Several important differences between this year’s debates and the debates since 1960 is that the earlier debates were more formal and had fewer personal attacks. Before this year the presidential candidates seemed to show more respect for each other.

Debates do give candidates a chance to gain name recognition. That was certainly true in 1960 when John Kennedy’s excellent performance helped him gain status in the presidential race. Kennedy might not have been able to win the presidential race that year without the assistance of the four debates.

It was also true in the debates held during the U.S. Senate race in 1858 in Illinois, which gave Abraham Lincoln the national recognition that helped him win the presidency two years later.

An insurgent candidate with no office-holding background has an advantage in attacking his opponent’s record in office. The insurgent can attack the officeholder during the debate about his performance as a public official.

However since the political debates have been very popular outside the United States, especially in Europe, they give observers in other countries a chance to see the candidates defend their positions from attacks from the other candidates.

Debates have become part of the national system and are taking place in races for local and state offices.

It can be said that campaign debates improve our democratic process. National debates at the state and local level seem to be here to stay.

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