Cancel the Presidential Debates

Cancel the Presidential Debates

Rachel CohenTuesday,9 February 2016

Saturday night US TV viewers were given two different platforms to watch candidates show off their best stuff. The GOP debate went about as to be expected (although Christie’s takedown of Marco “Mr. Roboto” Rubio was pretty spectacular), but I’m more interested in the other appearance of the night, Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live. Since the debates have become oversaturated ad placements for special interest groups, I think it’s time we look to other platforms to test a candidate’s ability to be both personable and on message. Apparently, SNL may actually be the best alternative.

Sanders follows the appearances of fellow candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom have appeared on the show before this election. In both recent cases the candidates saw popularity surge afterwards, which makes sense in a country where voters want a personality as much as a leader (arguably, more so.) And, there’s a long history of SNL being used to make politicians seem, well, human.

However, both Clinton’s and Trump’s effectiveness on the show came from other cast members making some pointed jabs at past policy or (in)action; yet it was their ability to “join in” on the joke well, by not walking offset, that made them seem most endearing.

Bernie Sanders’ appearance on SNL destroyed both Clinton’s and Trump’s. In his featured sketch alongside Larry David, he managed to both get out policy and cement himself as a guy who can make and take jokes. Trump isn’t particularly funny (intentionally), and Clinton does her best to act human, but Sanders seemed as natural on the SNL stage as he does behind the podium. Maybe that’s because of his previous acting experience (watch if you haven’t), but it shows that Bernie has the acting chops to turn on the charm when he needs to.

Plus, the “Bern Your Enthusiasm” sketch was amazing, and did even more to humanize Bernie without even needing a cameo.

What we tend to forget about this election process is that we are auditioning actors to play the part of America on the world’s stage. It’s why people remember Reagan and Clinton 1 as great figureheads – some of their policy worked and some of it sucked, but overall, they gave the vision of America’s charismatic leading man the (white male) people wanted. It’s why people respond to Trump’s antics, and it’s why Cruz will ultimately fail. We need someone who can be angry when we’re attacked, comforting when we’re suffering, and humble when we fuck up. We want our candidates to show emotion (well, unless they’re ladies) so that we know they can act the part when our nation needs it.

So why focus on “debates” where policy rarely even comes into play? Why not have the charisma contest be carried out in a real popular forum? At least we’ll have more fun.

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Image Credit: Phil Roeder on Flickr

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