It’s Debate Season…

I don’t like politics.

I should probably distinguish politics from government in saying that, because I like government – I think it is a necessity, and democracy is a great form of government to live under. Politics, however, is the excrement of government – the both pandering and venomous political process leaves me with a simple analogy (expressed in its true SAT-style glory):

government:politics :: dog:poop

I try not to be a political evangelist – I don’t affiliate with any particular party and agree with certain party lines on each side. I fancy myself something of a moderate. In spite of this, however, I am realistic enough to know that voting for a 3rd party candidate in the flawed 2-party system is pointless, so I force myself to vote for one of the major candidates.

Why the post on politics, then? Simple. I watched the Washington State gubernatorial debate this weekend. Governor Gregoire and Mr. Rossi engaged in a 1-hour structured debate that left me gagging. To begin with, it was obvious from the moment they stood beside each other on stage that these two people absolutely disdain each other. The hostility was undeniable. This is one of the main reasons I avoid politics when I can – politicians are, in spite of their constant appeals to the contrary, vicious and cruel when they want something.

The actual content of the debate, however, is what truly motivated this post. As the candidates answered questions, first from the moderators and then from voters videotaped on the streets, it became obvious that the candidates (one more so than the other) did not like to answer the questions as asked. Regardless of the issue – energy, economy, education, environment, etc. – Mr. Rossi in particular did not like to provide evidence. One of the foundational elements of argument and rhetoric as I teach it to my 9th graders is to give evidence of what you are saying. It seemed, as I watched the debate, that Mr. Rossi in particular could have used a refresher – he made some outrageous claims (turning 520 into an 8-lane bridge, abolishing the WASL, and “cherishing” teachers, to name a few), but provided no evidence, no reasons to believe that these were true (let alone possible).

His opponent, incumbent Governor Gregoire, however, provided a good deal of detail regarding her plans and, more importantly, evidence to support what she had already done. She specifically mentioned completed DOT projects, 520 bridge plans to begin next year, and raising teacher salaries as evidence that she had already been working hard to make positive changes on major issues.

By the end of the debate, in my opinion, Rossi looked not only incompetent, but borderline evil. One position he took stood out as particularly vicious: having spoken on the need to “cherish” teachers (his father was an elementary teacher), he failed to deny a backbreaking claim: that he would pay for road repairs by cutting over $1 billion from education – increasing class sizes, cancelling the teacher COLA, and cutting positions (most notably at the elementary level…more than a little ironic). This claim was brought up several times by Gregoire, and Rossi never refuted it. In fact, I seem to recall him confirming it during the question specifically on education. Which is another key element in rhetoric: deny false claims.Again, a key failure on Rossi’s part.

Did Governor Gregoire come off as a the clear winner? Not at all. But while it’s still early, and I refuse to base my vote on one debate, it’s hard not to come away from that debate seeing Rossi in bad light (one with a fiery glow, for that matter). Especially when I am convinced that my 9th graders would argue better than he would.

My vote (and opinion), however, is just one of many. And, based on what I’ve read in summaries, critiques, and comments about the debate, there are many who would disagree with my observations.


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