COMMENTARY | Monday night’s Republican primary debate moderated by Brian Williams turned into a “snooze fest” when the audience was instructed to remain silent during the debate. It was so quiet at times it wouldn’t have surprise me if the audience enjoyed a little “nap time.”
Later this week, Republican contender Newt Gingrich stated that he was “serving notice” that he would no longer participate in debates where the audience was not allowed to cheer. Various political pundits have since debated whether or not applause should be allowed during debates. Former Republican Presidential Contestant Sen. John McCain has even weighed in with his opinion which makes a very valid point, saying that allowing the audience to react during the debate “just takes up the time you’d otherwise be hearing from the candidates.”
Thursday night’s Republican primary debate was anything but quiet, and at times was both informative and entertaining, as reactions from the audience were allowed and encouraged.
While allowing voters to voice their opinions during debates may seem “rowdy” and “time-consuming” to some, I think they should be allowed for several reasons. The First Amendment guarantees us “the freedom of speech.” To me, to require the silence of viewers of a public political event that is televised to millions of American households is an infringement upon that right. The American people should always be allowed to voice their public approval and dissent towards political speech, even when it’s “rowdy” and “time-consuming”.
Secondly, we accuse politicians of being “isolated from the public” and “out of touch.” When candidates can hear an audience’s response to their talking points, they know immediately if the public feels that they are “doing the will of the people” and representing voters.
Most importantly, if the purpose of the debates is to inform the public about politicians various views, then it is in the public interest to encourage as many Americans as possible to participate in the process by wanting to watch and listen to the debates. No one is going to watch debates if the broadcast is likely to put them to sleep. While Thursday night’s debate might have seemed “undignified” or “too noisy” to some, it did draw viewers and it did give the candidates instant feedback on how their message is coming across to voters. This is in sharp contrast to the somnolent discourse of Monday night’s debate.
Allowing applause during debates is a mild request given our country’s past. Indeed, in Abraham Lincoln’s time it was not unusual for the audience to throw produce at the participants to voice their dissent. Allowing cheers and even boos seems much less disruptive and time consuming than candidates dodging rotten vegetables. It also beats the audience falling asleep.