Actually, It Was a Good Debate. Seriously.

It revealed the president’s true nature better than any policy discussion ever could.

I thought the debate was great. And Chris Wallace was outstanding, too.

Since I know pretty much everyone is saying that both the debate and the moderator were global embarrassments, let me explain. The purpose of a debate is to reveal useful things about the candidates. We pretend that we learn by observing a careful exchange of policy positions, and sometimes that happens. But has there ever been a debate where one of the candidates revealed more about himself than this one? Wasn’t it far more clarifying than most debates?

And Wallace was, for that reason, pretty perfect.  He inserted himself enough to clarify that Trump was breaking the rules. That was hard to do; he defiantly, on the spot, did not engage in false equivalence. That Trump blew right past him was great for the country—because we got to see Trump in his rawest, truest sense. We didn’t learn about the differences in approaches to health policy—but we did learn about character, temperament, and personality.

We also got to see how Biden handled such a volatile situation. He mostly showed self-restraint and calm. Isn’t that more telling than a few more minutes of him explaining his buy America procurement rules?

Debates should help voters make their decisions. This one provided a deluge of useful information.

Journalists are sometimes criticized for not ‘nailing’ the subjects that they interview. That misunderstands the journalist’s role.  The job is often to reveal not rebut. If I’m really honest, I have to admit that when I do interviews, especially for print publications, I will intentionally let subjects continue to say stupid or offensive things, without challenge—because that is far more revealing than if I pointed out their stupidity and thereby prompted them to clarify.

I feel the same way about debates. The point is not to catch the candidates; it’s to reveal them. In that sense, this was the best debate in modern American history.

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Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman is the president and cofounder of Report for America. He is the author of Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom. As senior adviser to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he was the prime author of the landmark report Information Needs of Communities.