There were two election debates yesterday, and the differences couldn’t have been starker.
The most obvious difference was that two men took the stage in one, and two women in the other.
But that wasn’t the only thing. Rather it was in the behaviour that was on full television display from both events.
You only had to catch a couple of minutes of the US presidential debate to quickly want to turn away. It wasn’t a discussion on policy or ideas. It was 90 minutes of personal barbs, insults, shouting and attacks.
It was, as one CNN reporter described it, “A hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.”
A shit show, said another.
It wasn’t a debate. It was an absolute disgrace.
Will there be a second debate? As Stan Gran asked, what is the actual point? Is this how America ends?
Meanwhile in New Zealand, a very different debate was occurring: that between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Opposition leader, Judith Collins, who both go to the polls on October 17.
It was still fiery, but the two debated policy. Ardern promised to declare a climate emergency, Collins pushed tax cuts and economic growth.
The low point was Ardern being pushed to “admit” she smoked cannabis in her youth (are we still at that point?) as the two debated a referendum on legalising recreational use.
Still, it was described as a debate of “policy substance”. Both leaders even agreed on a couple of things – such as free pads and tampons in schools and gender neutral toilets, and potentially endorsing a travel bubble with Australia.
Both participants on the New Zealand stage kept at least somewhat to the rules – and a moderator kept them in check. They didn’t attack their personal lives, they didn’t sink to depths you wouldn’t take your worst enemy.
At times, there was some yelling — but not on personal matters, rather differences of opinions on key issues, including on housing. At one point, Ardern told Collins to take a “deep breath”. Collins replied with ‘oooh!’ as the moderator declared they would be moving on to the topic of cannabis. “Well that will be a deep breath won’t it,” Collins added. Both women on stage then shared a laugh. (You can see it around the 35 minute mark in the video above).
Back in the US, there was a distinct lack of vision. Biden may have intended on sharing his vision, but didn’t get much of a chance as Trump went direct into the attack and interrupted both the moderator and his opponent, constantly.
Trump refused to denounce white supremacy, telling the Proud Boys group to “stand back and standby.” He attacked Biden’s son Hunter, who has struggled with drug addition, just moments after Biden had been talking about his other son, the late Beau Biden.
New Zealand’s election debate, which came in the hours after the US version, actually offered some comfort, a little piece of optimism. Two female leaders on stage — never tiptoeing around each other, and constantly voicing direct opinions, but mostly keeping things on topic.
You can debate and argue. You can have major differences of opinion. At times you can even talk over the top of each other — but it doesn’t have to denigrate into an absolute shit show.