Year of The Mom: 2012 Debates Still More of the Same Though

22 Oct

English: Photo of Jill Stein, Green-Rainbow Pa...

By Gayla Schaefer

As the progressive of our Leadership Voices partnership project, I was of course cheering on President Obama during the second debate as he made his come-back from the first. And, despite my focus with this project on healing divisions by focusing on core shared values as a starting point for exploring our hypothetical Strong Mother leader model, I found myself snickering at the “Binders full of women” meme as it took off across the Internet.

Just Another Distraction

But, once again we had all just been distracted by sound bites without enough focus on the real issue of leadership.

It was good to see discussion on some of the Binders pop-up sites moved quickly into important discussions about policy issues such as pay disparity, violence against women, and work-life balance. However, there was no way to come out of watching the debates without feeling like all sides were pandering to women as a special interest group who could be won over with empty rhetoric about loving mom and apple pie, vague stances on health care, etc. That strategy fails to recognize that mothers come in many shapes, sizes, political/religious/cultural stripes, and most importantly, are not a one message fits all group that will respond to a targeted ad campaign — unless that message is about the health, safety, and futures of our children. And, gee, that is something that appeals to parents of both sexes (married or single).

Had been 20 years since the other time a woman moderated a presidential debate?

On the flip side, what wonderful things does it mean for the future leadership of our nation that the decision to equalize the moderation playing field can at least partly be traced to the actions of three teens who used the power of social media to amplify their voices? I find that a particularly exciting foreshadow of things to come.

Although we are enjoying this “Year of the Mom,” can we quit acting like mothers and women don’t make up the majority of our electorate? Let’s see less pandering and more voices at the table. It was great to see the debate moderators include an equal number of men as women this year, yet it is appalling to realize how unusual a thing that is.

Debates Should Provide Information and Role Models 

Regardless of your side of the aisle, we can all agree that debates are not what they are supposed to be.

Debates should be unscripted opportunities to see who candidates really are. They should be run by professional journalists  or mediators skilled at asking tough questions, keeping everyone on point and providing follow-up questions and fact checking on the spot. A great example was provided this year by HBO’s new series “The Newsroom.”

What we have grown accustomed to instead is a completely faux atmosphere where we wait for the zingers, turning-point slip ups, and sound bites. Nothing feels real. No one really feels illuminated or enlightened afterwards.

And, more sadly, for our children watching the exchanges, and the never-ending pundit drivel for days afterwards, no role models for thoughtful, respectful debate and how to mediate conflict into solutions are provided.

Perhaps if we held debates in rooms full of children, our leaders would pay more attention to this important role.

Time for Change. 

There were especially unsettling reports about the treatment of Green Party candidates, Dr. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, by the police for trying to take part in the nationally televised conversation.

Yes, consensus exists that votes for third-party candidates generally end up helping elect the mainstream candidate who is the least like the voter’s choice. But, is shutting out these other voices the responsible answer in an age where so many Americans are disillusioned with the two parties?

Digging into the story about the debate rules, and rulers, I have to agree with Dr. Stein that perhaps a return to debate management by the nonpartisan and independent League of Women Voters, or another such more neutral organization, is called for. After reading up on why the League withdrew their sponsorship of presidential debates back in 1988 and the way the two parties tried to temper Candy Crowley’s voice as a debate moderator, an independent public inquiry into neutral debate organization might be a good idea.

Fact-Checks For All

As a writer, I almost cheered when Crowley fact-checked one candidate during the second debate – and not simply because I am more likely to vote for the other guy. I was cheering for what I see as the return to real reporting by my industry.

I am the daughter of one of the first women at the news desk of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram and the first to secure a maternity leave from the Manhattan Mercury. I was raised to believe in old-fashioned journalistic ideas that a reporter’s real job is to fact check every statement. Doing he said/she said with no fact checking does not provide the service of the Fourth Estate needed to produce an educated and informed citizenry equipped with the best knowledge to make responsible voting decisions.

Unfortunately, since Crowley’s “fact-check” of Mitt Romney received more post-debate press than her check on the President, many have called the exchange biased and inappropriate.  My conservative co-blogger and I agree, however that fact checking is desperately needed — equally for all sides.

Leadership Voices

The creation of a new public service leader model we call the “Strong Mother” as a solution to our dysfunctional political family in America today.  Our archetypal Strong Mother represents one who sets the standard for doing what must be done for the sake of her family – by working with every potential ally for each individual need.

Toning down our political team polarization is a must to repair our divided house.  Inviting all reasonable and civil voices to the table to hammer out solutions requires seeking allies – not just beating opponents. And, as every mother understands, knowledge is power. We must bring about the return to free and responsible journalists as fact checkers using the tools so easily available in the immediate information gratification age in which we live.

Pick Your Battles

We understand that some will call our vision for civilized problem solving a misguided effort to “all just get along.”

The thing is, there are causes worth standing up to battle for at all costs. We just do not agree with the rather short-sighted notion that every single issue must become one of those “my way or the highway” fights that cause us to forget  that “our enemy today can be our friend tomorrow.”

Compromise and focus on finding common ground issues seems to us as the best path forward to a reunited nation that can once again tackle those truly polarizing topics for which a line in the sand is drawn and thoughtful leaders must find a way to move forward together without annihilating one another in the process.


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