Watching the Debates

We have now watched 2 Presidential debates and 1 Vice Presidential debate. The latter was by far the most edifying. Most people watching it probably focused on the merits of what the candidates said. There is doing wrong with doing so. I did so too. But I also focused on three other things that Brendon Levesque and I teach in our Appellate Advocacy Course: (1) how well did they play the hand they were dealt? (2) how smoothly did they duck the questions they did not want to answer? and (3) how well did they exploit their opponent’s weak answers? A favorable answer to these questions is the mark of a true leader.

Vladimir Putin surely gets a top grade on (1) in leading a country with a host of problems. So, in grading Vice President Pence on this point, you need to consider that he could not deviate too much from the position of his boss, who has a host of problems. This means that Pence’s grade on some issues should not be based on whether he was defending the indefensible, but rather on how well he was doing so. Likewise, in grading Senator Harris, her grade on some issues should not be based on whether she successfully bridged the gap between the two wings of her party, but rather on how well she was doing so.

Both Harris (is Biden going to pack the Supreme Court?) and Pence (is Trump going to accept an election loss?) have a lot to learn from President Clinton about smoothly ducking questions. And President Reagan was a master of (3) with “There you go again,” thus tanking President Carter’s reelection bid.

Perhaps you will find these thoughts useful if you have not yet voted.

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