How we conduct elections has changed over the years.
It is no longer a show of hands. It isn’t by the roar of the crowd. We don’t drop a pebble in a vessel like they did in ancient Greece — although the evolution of that process is where we get the word “ballot,” from the Italian for “small ball.”
Today, the process is more regimented and specific. It is rife with rules and process. The elections once occurred quickly — like after a battle or the death of another leader. Now they take months, if not years, for the government to prepare and the candidates to campaign.
Politics has changed, too. Parties have risen to power and fallen out of fashion, strengthened their hold and cemented their role. While not a part of vision of the U.S. Constitution when it was adopted, they now have a stranglehold on the process like parasites that can’t be removed without killing the host.
But through it all, one thing has remained: debates. Will that continue in Pennsylvania this year? Good question.
The U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican Pat Toomey is up for grabs, with Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman squaring off with his Republican counterpart, former cardiologist and talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz. It has been — to put it mildly — an unusual race.
Fetterman had a stroke days before the primary, and while Democrats were going to the polls, he was having a pacemaker implanted. Oz, meanwhile, was in a tight race with his closest opponent, David McCormick, that went to court and wasn’t resolved until McCormick conceded in June.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) September 12, 2022
Since then, it has only gotten stranger. Fetterman was off the trail for months while recovering but spent plenty of time campaigning online, sniping at Oz as a New Jersey transplant out of touch with Pennsylvanians. Meanwhile, Oz has been everywhere, but polls show his strategy hasn’t helped him overtake Fetterman.
Now with Fetterman back to campaigning and the election just over two months away, things are getting serious. Or they should be. Instead, there is a question mark hanging over the race: Will we ever see a debate between the two?
On Tuesday, Fetterman — who recently and gleefully pegged Oz as being a crudité-eater in a state of veggie trays — declined an offer from the Oz team that included a list of concessions for a KDKA debate next week, including bathroom breaks, an earpiece so staff could feed him answers and paying for any additional medical personnel needed.
Fetterman said it was insulting to stroke survivors. He has a point, but it does seem a bit thin-skinned after months of shamelessly mocking Oz for his wealth, his celebrity and his change of address. Bad taste, particularly from a doctor whose specialty includes Fetterman’s health problems? Perhaps. But it couldn’t have been a surprise after the Fetterman strategy was half Vegas roast and half fraternity prank war.
Once again, both sides are short-changing the people by making this a battle of personalities over problems, of one-liners over issues.
A debate should be the opportunity to cut through the viral videos and get down to business. Maybe it can’t be a debate like those of the past, with two podiums and an hour in front of a moderator. Maybe it needs to be tweaked in a way that won’t just accommodate Fetterman’s health but also the campaign schedules of both sides.
The important thing is not how they debate but that they debate.
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