Debate Decorum Has Deteriorated

Monday, September 25, 2006

Debate Decorum Has Deteriorated

I have always been bothered by the quality of questions asked at candidates' debates, as well as the lack of effective follow-up questions. But it seems as though the audiences at debates are increasingly doing their part to turn the proceedings into the political equivalent of a mud-wrestling contest.

Earlier this month, that was the case in Montana, where GOP Senator Conrad Burns faces a spirited challenge from Jon Tester, the Democratic nominee. As one of the state's largest newspapers reported:
Members of the audience took offense and shouted “psycho” and booed as Burns claimed that Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester has an illegal slush fund, has taken “unreported” trips to Taiwan, and made illegal phone calls to raise campaign funds.

The accusations came after Tester accused Burns of no longer representing Montana values.

... The two were in the Bitterroot Valley [Sept. 10] for a 90-minute debate at Hamilton High School, an raucous event punctuated by heckling from a lively overflow audience.

... The crowd, which at times booed and baited Burns, earned a public chastising from one Burns supporter, who voiced her displeasure and asked for the rudeness to end.
I definitely hope Burns loses his re-election bid, but I am appalled at how Democratic partisans behaved during this debate.

If any member of a debate audience heckles, shouts or says anything that is audible, he or she ought to be ejected from the event -- immediately. If audience members' behavior is particularly disruptive, they ought to be charged by police with disorderly conduct.

Democrats, and liberals in particular, like to talk about free speech, but heckling or shouting down a person with whom we disagree is showing tremendous disrespect for free speech -- as well as disrespecting the other individuals who trying to listen to the debate.

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