Debates are rare chances to see candidates outside their bubbles.

Carter and Ford debate domestic policy at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. (WikiCommons photo)

The first of three presidential debates this fall is scheduled for Sept. 26, which is 40 years and three days after Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford established a tradition that no major party candidate has since dared to skip. The debates are more important than ever, as political candidates increasingly avoid tough questions from journalists. As of the end of August, Hillary Clinton has not held a single formal press conference this year. Chats with the genial hosts of late-night comedy programs are hardly a substitute. Mrs. Clinton’s aversion to unplanned questions does not inspire confidence that she would highly value the public’s right to know what its government is doing.

As for Donald J. Trump, he has proven that talking off the top of one’s head is not a reassuring habit in a national leader. Mr. Trump likes to give press conferences (17 this year through August, according to his campaign), but he is shockingly unprepared for them, making what FactCheck.com has called “false and misleading statements.” In one instance he criticized Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s record as governor of New Jersey. Mr. Kaine was the governor of Virginia.

Advertisement

The presidential debates are about the only occasions left in which the major party nominees face sustained questioning about how they would govern. Sometimes they include frivolous topics or attempts at “gotcha” moments, but it is not unreasonable to expect someone who proposes to lead the free world to handle such situations diplomatically. This year especially, we are anxious to find out whether the candidates can engage in the give-and-take with journalists that is essential in a functioning democracy.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

So what does it matter what a celibate woman thinks about contraception?
Helena BurnsJuly 20, 2018
Former US President Barack Obama gestures to the crowd, during an event in Kogelo, Kisumu, Kenya, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo Brian Inganga)
In Johannesburg, Obama gave what some commentators consider his most important speech since he vacated the Oval Office.
Anthony EganJuly 20, 2018
With his "Mass," Leonard Bernstein uses liturgy to give voice to political unease.
Kevin McCabeJuly 20, 2018
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives for the Jan. 6 installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society,” says Hans Zollner, S.J., who heads the Centre for Child Protection in Rome.