Presidential Debates Can’t Help Us Face the Future

Character matters more than talking points in choosing a leader. And it’s hard to know what questions to ask about it.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

It used to be that watching two 80-year-old men argue about what to do in the Middle East might happen accidentally at McDonald’s at seven on a Saturday morning. Now, the whole world is watching because one of those two men will get the nuclear codes.

The presidential debates this year will have all sorts of implications for the country, but Christians should especially pay attention to what these events don’t do. The most important factors in choosing a leader aren’t the ones being debated.

The problem is not simply that presidential debates—and, increasingly, debates for lower offices—are entertainment driven, in ways that Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman warned us about. The moments most people look for in a debate are more like pro wrestling than rational discussion of qualifications and issues.

Plenty of people—from all over the political spectrum—are nervous about this year’s debates, but they’re not nervous that their candidate won’t have the right policy response. They are nervous that one candidate or the other might walk to the microphone and order the value meal with extra fries or fall down the steps of the platform. But there’s a deeper reason why debates—even in the best of situations—don’t help us as much as we think.

Debates tend to reinforce a fundamental problem with what we think we’re doing when we choose leaders. The problem is not that the debates aren’t focused enough on issues; it’s that we are choosing a leader to deal with issues that can’t possibly be asked about in a debate. That’s because …

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