Opinion

Column: The VP debate was boring, as it should be

A fly briefly lands on head of Vice President Mike Pence during Wednesday's vice presidential debate against Democratic
A fly briefly lands on head of Vice President Mike Pence during Wednesday’s vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris at the University of Utah. The debate was so dull, a Twitter user noted, that most of the post-debate analysis seemed to be about the fly. (Alex Wong/Tribune News Service)

First we had a presidential debate that was equal parts carnival and a second-grade playground.

A little more than a week later, we got a vice presidential debate that was much more subdued, focused on policy and void of nonstop interruptions and insults.

Quite a contrast. Or, as some put it, “boring.”

Republican Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris debated Wednesday night as the running mates to President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. And while the Pence-Harris debate was far more civil than the circus that was the presidential debate, apparently for some it was an overcorrection.

Social media was filled with debate watchers who found the Pence-Harris tussle dull.

“Well, that was, well, something we can forget quickly,” tweeted Stuart Rothenberg, a national political forecaster with Inside Elections.

He was not alone.

In fact, as one Twitter wag exaggerated, it was so boring that most of the post-debate analysis seemed to be about the fly that landed on Pence.

Pence and Harris committed their fair share of sins during Wednesday night’s debate — completely ignoring the moderator’s questions with alarming frequency — but they did not come across as two kids fighting over the top bunk.

It was jarring to scroll through the “that was boring!” comments. Yes, I know Twitter is not real life, but in some ways it’s on the leading edge of political commentary these days and its judgment was, well, jarring.

I say this because it was only a week earlier, after the presidential debate that commentators — on Twitter and on practically all the television networks — proclaimed the contest a sure sign of the pending demise of the republic.

Some even advised it be the last presidential debate of the season.

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The fact is, we needed a little boring. We should be thanking Pence and Harris rather than whining about them. (It occurs to me that thanking them for not turning a debate into a second-grade mudfest may be a pretty low bar, but that seems to be where we’re at these days.)

Perhaps boring should be the goal of every debate. These events are not public spectacles that must “wow” us the way Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers does.

These are vital elements of our democratic election process, vehicles for providing to as many people as possible vital information about the candidates who want to represent us in our government. Vital information with which they will make a pretty consequential decision.

If you want any part of that process to be put on for show, you’re inviting the whole system to be viewed as little more than just that.

Look, I know debates aren’t just the staid exchange of policy positions. There has always been an aspect of theater to them. Some of the best debaters knew that and used it to their advantage. (Think Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.) Still, it might be a good idea to save exciting for the World Series and reality television shows.

It may benefit us all, not to mention the country, that we make more of these political debates — no, let’s make that all political debates — boring. Informative, but boring.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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