It’s so strange how these events are commonly called “debates” when they’re obviously, rather, side-by-side interviews. When someone who is supposed to be the moderator—and thus the mere introducer and enforcer of the rules—instead speaks throughout the event, that person functions as an interviewer.

An interview (question-and-answer format) isn’t a debate. The essence of a debate is the dialogue, as in Plato’s dialogues, or the interrogation as in a trial. The truth comes out best from the back-and-forth between the debaters. That’s when the audience can judge whether one side has the upper hand. When the so-called moderator stifles the back-and-forth to interject with her questions, the conventions of interviews overtake those of debates. For example, the “debaters” can run out the clock as they’re used to doing as politicians or pundits in televised interviews, because the “moderator” moves swiftly between topics.

The question is why American politicians are afraid to debate in public, or why they prefer to engage in interviews disguised as debates. Could it be they don’t want the truth to emerge?

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