September 27, 2016

351 words 2 mins read

How Framing Helps Presidential Debates

I love breaking from convention. I get tired of doing the same things, the same ways for no particular reason. If you’d asked me about dropping opening and closing statements from presidential debates, I’d have said “give it try.”

Well, Lester Holt gave it a try.

I want the statements back.

Last night, the debate began with a question and ended with an answer. No opening or closing. Without those framing statements, the whole thing felt like middle music—a name my colleague gave to the music in upscale hotel lobbies that just goes on and on.

While framing statements help the candidates set a tone, I’m less concerned about candidates than I am about viewers.

As a viewer, I want the candidates to declare their vision without the moderator’s permission. Lester Holt asked almost exclusively about the past. Opening or closing statements might have given both candidates to talk about what they intend to do with the incredible office of President of the United States.

As a voter, I want to see that the candidates can put a bow on things. When their opponents lie, when the moderator lies and cheats, the closing statement lets the besieged candidate finish on his terms. Like the way Donald Trump closed out a Republican debate last winter.

No, he didn’t give a Reaganesque vision of a shining city on a hill. He perfectly summarized why he’s decided to sacrifice his retirement. He wants to make America great again.

Those opening and closing statements also ease us into the event. Last night seemed so awkward. Boring silence, then jerked into the middle of a discussion. Lester Holt’s vague debate topics—Stuff, Things, and Sundry—didn’t help. Framing statements would have put the debate itself into some context.

I began by saying I like tossing out traditions. That’s true if the tradition serves no purpose. I like experimenting, too. I appreciate the experimentation of ditching those framing statements in debates.

It didn’t work, so bring them back.

And here’s the closing statement I wrote for Mr. Trump. Maybe he can use it October 9 in St. Louis.