Verbum Ultimum: Debate Decorum

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/6/11 10:00pm

Next Tuesday, the College will renew an exciting quadrennial tradition when GOP presidential contenders take the stage in Spaulding Auditorium for the ninth Republican primary debate of the 2012 election season. Hosting a debate is a tremendous honor one that only two other schools in the nation are currently scheduled to share. Students of all political persuasions should engage in the lively and spirited dialogue that the event will bring to our campus, but it is imperative that students and community members remember to set a civil and respectful tone for this discourse.

Embarrassing incidents of audience misbehavior have marred several of this year's Republican primary debates, at least partially overshadowing the candidates' discussions of important issues. At recent debates in Orlando and Tampa, and at the Reagan Presidential Library in California, audience members booed a gay soldier during a video question, shouted "Let him die!" in response to a hypothetical question about treating a terminally ill uninsured man, and enthusiastically applauded when the debate moderator brought up Texas' extensive execution record under Gov. Rick Perry. In each of those cases, the behavior of the debate-goers became a bigger story than the candidates' statements.

The College's presidential debate will effectively function as our school's "close up" our moment of greatest national visibility in the forseeable future. Murmurs of student plans to disrupt the debate are therefore highly troubling. It would be an enormous black eye for the College and a damning indictment of our maturity and political culture if Dartmouth's debate were to be characterized by another inappropriate outburst, no matter its ideological origin.

Instead of engaging in childish heckling during certain candidates' replies, students should harness their informed opinions into other, more meaningful channels. In the days surrounding the debate, we will have the opportunity to participate in scholastic conversations that are actually conducive to making sense of the candidates' policies and political records, such as the pre-debate "Leading Voices: What's at Stake in the Republican Debate" panel moderated by political journalist and College Trustee Morton Kondracke '60.

As students, we especially should recognize the value of ideas over antics, of rebuttals over ruckus. We owe it to the College to be gracious hosts and thoughtful participants in a vital part of our political process.

Let's leave the stage and the spotlight to the candidates after all, these politicians are vying to lead our country. They should be scrutinized with thorough intensity, but not let off the hook by the distracting behavior of their audience.