On the movie “The Invention Of Lying”, the humorist Ricky Gervais suddenly finds himself on a privileged position. In a world where the truth is the natural and obvious condition of society, the character suffers a fantastic change: his ability to lie is activated. He no longer respects that natural law that prevents everybody of saying or doing something that is not endorsed in reality. Thus, he begins to have infinite benefits over the naive people who ignore the capacity of the human mind to distort other’s perceptions.
In an ideal world, we don’t lie. In an ideal world, politicians don’t lie. In an ideal world, those who govern us put the information in our hands and we can effectively penalize them when they do something against our interest. In an ideal world, citizens can exercise accountability, not only with their representatives at the time of vote, but by establishing control and taking advantage of the possibility of examining the correspondence between what they promise or criticize and what they do or finally happens.
However, on campaign time, when they make the government promises which, in theory, will give us reasons to complain afterwards, there is a shortage of verifiable and important. For example, on the last Argentine legislative elections, Chequeado made the special job of checking the campaign spots. Most fell on the category created ad hoc, “impossible to check”. This adds evidence to the fact that the political game is done in the outside of thorny debates and compromising issues. It doesn’t only happen here, but it is a general norm. The personal attack or the exaltation of promises empty of content is what predominates on the results.
In Argentina, for example, there is not a strong democratic debate culture. It could even be said that there is little democratic culture of listening and respecting others opinion. There are no press conferences of the main representatives, so we must be content with proselyting speeches or officer speeches. But the debate as an electoral campaign institution has been historically the great absent, despite the demands certain social sectors have systematically raised to claim it prior to every election.
However, if they have not happened until now is because of a multiplicity of factors. The most notorious and distressing: it is perceived that the cost-benefit equation of participating in a debate is singularly contradictory. For the leader of the election, it is “cheaper” not to risk being questioned by an opponent than to be absent on the discussion. There is no social punishment and much less on the ballot box (there are other more effective procedures to ensure votes than being subjected to the circumstances of public debate). On this occasion, with the 2015 elections in the horizon, initiatives are already been worked on in the third sector, as Argentina Debate or the broadcasting station opposite to the government, TN. Prospect candidates are being invited to sign. From some of them, there is no answer.
For those who see in the debate between the possible representatives a unique possibility to listen the contenders advocating their point of view, the only option is adding together spots or public appearances and structuring the difference between them up to a certain degree in order to facilitate the decision. It is exhausting for the average voter.
On the other hand, if the vaunted return of politics is such, if currently the subject is present in almost every social instance (we talk about politics in the bus, in birthday parties, in Saturday’s BBQ, in Twitter and Facebook), it is at least derisory that we cannot assist to a basic debate between those who exercise politics.
1960: Kennedy vs Nixon, the first televised presidential debate which, moreover, demonstrated the power of the image.
Anyway, there is something that cannot overlooked. In the televised debates there is much more being played outside of the speech than within it. In times of videopolitics there are so many factors that play a role and affect the electorate preferences that the bitter taste persists. Campaigning in gossip programs also brings votes, visibility and presence before the cameras. Furthermore, it does not require special preparation, production of responses and true knowledge of the reality of the social demands.
It is for this reason that, in addition, there is an important role that we must take as main recipients of this kind of initiatives. Beyond being good spectators and contributing with the rating points that will finally legitimize it as a social good in the bloodiest perspective of many, it is in us to encourage a culture that values the debate and that establishes it as a compromising responsibility for the politicians who have the conditions to present themselves. The debates possibly won’t solve anything, nor ensure more capable candidates, nor benefit those who truly deserve it. But as citizens, we deserve this space where we would be the recipients of a message that considers us to be valuable.