The Public Debate

I watched the debate last night like many other americans. Although the nationwide numbers aren’t available until monday, it appears that about 40% of americans watched last night. That’s bigger than any of the Bush debates and possibly even bigger than the 38% that watched Clinton/Bush in 92. I heard today that over 40% would be in super bowl territory. It’s clear that americans are tuned in to this election.

But what really got me thinking was how the foreign policy debate between McCain and Obama last night was broadcast to the entire world. The russians got to see them debate our policy toward Russia. The iranians got to see them debate our policy toward Iran. The chinese took notice of our concern about our economic reliance on China. And so on and so forth.

I am proud to live in the most open transparent democracy in the world. Yes, we have huge problems in this country. Yes, we need to change the way we are operating in this "post american world" we find ourselves in. But we have the courage to conduct our debate in the open in public and broadcast it to the rest of the world. And that’s a great thing.


Comments (Archived):

  1. James

    Most open and transparent? Alot of countries televise their debates… and I’d say the parliamentary systems in other English speaking countries are alot more open generally – not just when election time comes around

    1. fredwilson

      yes, you are right about that.i am fond of parliamentary systems and at times wish we had one here in the US

  2. Bryan

    Well Put Fred. I think most would agree regardless of party affiliation.

  3. Nick

    I’m surprised at you Fred. “. . . most open transparent democracy in the world” That’s the kind of mindless nationalistic language you normally seem to reject.And what’s the basis for the statement? Are you saying that the US is more transparent than say, Australia, or NZ, or much of Scandanavia for that matter?The debate was broadcast globally because there was interest from abroad. Why? Because the US is a very big country with a large economy and a large military– its politics impact the entire world.This doesn’t make it uniquely, or even especially, transparent.

    1. Isaac

      +1 to Nick’s comment.In Australia, parliamentary ‘Question Time’ is routinely televised.

    2. fredwilson

      you’ve got a point therei didn’t choose my words particularly well.what i was trying to say is that as the largest economy and with the largest military, our choices impact the world in big ways and we allow our debates to be public.china does not, russia does notwe may not be any more open than australia or the western european democracies, but our choices are more impactful, at least right nowso i am proud that we allow those choices to be debated out in the open in front of the rest of the world

  4. Guest

    I must say, John McCain’s performance was honourable. He was back to his old self last night: again explicit on torture, unlike the rest of the GOP zoo; zinging ethanol … Look, I am not strictly opposed to ethanol, however I admire the intellectual honesty to speak against it in an election like this. McCain basically killed his chances in Iowa and Minnesota and made it harder on himself in Indiana.The tragic and szhizophrenic nature of this man is very perplexing. He won the GOP primaries despite having a huge financial, organizational and institutional disadvantage. People just liked John McCain and despised Mitt “the Nit” Romney. Then what does McCain do? He lets his campaign be infested with sleazeballs – Romney and his cronies (such as Meg Whitman), proteges of Karl Rove, lobbyists, other corporate scum – and they run away with the most despicable and disgusting campaign ever, even by GOP standards.Why do that? Why not stick with what was working? Why not distance himself from the scumbags?Then, today he gets pounded for not owning to this “government spending” that he talked agains being done on G.W. Bush’s watch.The contemptuous muttering under his nose and his frustration, in my view was not aimed at Obama, but rather at his own course over the last eight years to be the “good soldier” and line-up behind the party leader. Had McCain been true to himself over the years, he would have had much better chances this election.So here’s the lesson here, that applies not only in politics but everywhere in life:Don’t subordinate to a lousy and incompetent leader. Don’t be a “team player” on a team of scumbags. It never pays off in the long run.

  5. gregorylent

    watched it in bangalore, conversation afterwards, boring debate, and to a man all agreed that they hope obama wins, and that he will be killed. they were certain of this. this is highly educated global indian guys … america has some re-branding work to do, collectively, it seems.

  6. Julien

    It was broadcasted on french TV as well and one of the public channels (owned by the state)! Anyway, one of our politicians said one day that we, [french], like the rest of the world cannot participate to the election that determines the more of our lives! I guess it’s more true than ever!

  7. JLM

    Ours is a pretty imperfect system but it is the longest surviving democracy in the world and though our country was born at the tip of a bloody bayonet, we haven’t ever had to change our government to the accompaniment of a tank serenade.What to me is truly bewildering is how silly the media coverage of our elections has become. It truly strikes me as 4th grade recess (with an apology to many 4th graders, sorry). I am offended by the sheer stupidity of the coverage. I am also put off by the sheer meanness of commentators. I am simply amazed at the obvious partisanship of folks and institutions which want to be called journalists.All of this is set against my sincere admiration for the fundamental goodness of the American people as manifested in the outpouring of sentiment and action in the face of natural disasters, national calamaties and wars.We are a nation which will ask mothers to sacrifice the sons they have birthed for the Republic and freedom; and, having taken them will promolugate a political system which is not worthy of ther sacrifice.I just wish we could attract some better people to politics.

    1. fredwilson

      Like you JLM

    2. Cam MacRae

      Longest surviving democracy in the world? That would very much depend on your definition of democracy, however New Zealand, a constitutional democracy, was first past the post with universal suffrage in 1893.

      1. JLM

        That would be the “imperfect” part I noted above. Hats off to New Zealand — the best damn trout fishing on this planet!From time to time, I tell my wife, a lawyer, that I don’t think women should be allowed to vote in the US even now. It is very, very important to have a comfortable couch in your home office. LOLI admire and respect all democracies in any part of the world. I often think about new democracies trying to understand democratic countries in which democracy has flourished for hundreds of years. Ours is a highly evolved democracy and I fear has become so complex that we lose sight of the basic principles. We were, after all, founded in part because of a tax on tea and yet we are a nation of $4 lattes. It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing.

        1. Cam MacRae

          Wow – you must have a comfortable couch ;)A highly evolved democracy isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of the US, and not because it’s a republic, but because the electoral system is antiquated. I’d like to see proportional representation, preferential voting and an end to the electoral college system – now that would be evolved!That said, I hear ya.

          1. JLM

            I have come to appreciate the wisdom of the Founding Fathers more and more as the forces of our country continue to evolve and move. The Electoral College ensures that no part of the country with its unique regional view of the world (e.g. oil producing states or coastal states) is able to dominate the politics of the nation. I think the FFs were very, very clever. For some guys who knew nothing about the Internet, Blackberrys, spreadsheets or cell phones — they did a damn good job.On that note, I wonder if there is a politician alive today who could come off the bench and have played in their league. Certanly no point guards!

  8. Rowan

    America is a great nation in many ways, but do you really believe that it is the most open and transparent democracy in the world? Even after eight years of Bush? Unfortunately the damage that he has done to your democracy cannot be undone by wishful thinking and a few tired cliches. You may not like Bush, but he is your democracy at the moment, and that does not reflect well on the nation as a whole.America has some tough decisions to make, and the world is indeed watching — but only because your actions affect the rest of us as well. Here’s hoping the next eight years are better than the last eight.

    1. JLM

      You may be confusing our democracy with our public or international image.When the world looks for leadership to solve the problems of the world it looks to the United States of America. This is not a tired cliche but rather the reality of the last century whether it was for the physical safety of the world, the advance of technology or the strength and innovation of capitalism. The United Nations is not in NYC by accident.We have a great secret — we are a nation of immigrants and we are everybody and nobody all at the same time. We have the poetry of Ireland, the work ethic of Germany, the English sense of empire and the romance of Italy in our veins. [I did not mean to leave out any nationality or ethnic group but I could have gone forever. Sorry!] If there is a nation with a unique characteristic, we have stolen it and incorporated it into the American psyche. Tex-Mex alone is proof positive of that!All bound together by the American Dream.The greatest characteristic of America is the complete inability to hold a grudge. No other country routinely rebuilds the cities and economies of those it vanquishes in battle. I have often thought that the Mayor of Newark, NJ should declare war on America, exchange a couple rounds of howitzer fire, surrender and demand to be rebuilt.Our leaders change and they make mistakes along the way but the strength and defining quality of our democracy is our people. And, our people are the combined strengths of every country on the planet! We are the strongest mongrels every bred.BTW, I think George W Bush is being judged a bit harshly just now. We will never really know what our government has done to protect us since 9-11 but the record is quite extraordinary. I cannot imagine how we have avoided a similar incident but I am absolutely certain this administration deserves the credit.

      1. S. Pandya

        This is a wonderful post. Love the humor about Newark too.

  9. Wally

    Its not so much broadcasting our debate to the entire world but rather their country’s media chose to broadcast it. I think Americans would rather watch The Biggest Loser or Dancing with the Stars than a presidential debate of a foreign country so our media won’t broadcast it especially when advertising dollars are on the line.

  10. slowblogger

    In terms of international sensitivity and attention, the foreign policy of the US Fred mentioned is probably more comparable to that of China or Russia against the US. I don’t know China or Russia broadcast this kind of discussions. Do they?

    1. fredwilson

      That’s what I meant to sayI botched this post

      1. slowblogger

        I have no problem with people being proud of their countries, as long as they do not become a hostile nationalist against others. As long as they respect other countries too, I actually like patriotic people.Many people in countries with decent well being are probably a bit more proud than neutral about their countries. I don’t think Americans need to be more critical of theirs just because it is the US.

  11. S.t

    McCain-Obama debate pulls average early rating…(& don’t question his judgement… )

  12. Rijk

    I watched from The Netherlands, were it was broadcast, in the middle of the night unfortunately. And I was glad to see two candidates that actually seemed to be interested in the rest of the world, had been around, were intelligent, etc. Neither of them would be a disaster.It is a pity that the general campaign discussions we are seeing on the net are so ruthlessly partisan, with people not understanding why anybody could possibly support ‘the other guy’. And that with both of these candidates initially appealing to ‘change’, getting away from the culture wars etc. It seems their supporters missed the memo.

  13. mark slater

    that is a totally incorrect statement. New Zealand, Australia, sweden, even the Uk with a parliamentary system is more transparent.If you are wondering why there is a collectively dim view of the american approach to being a true part of the world community, you look no further than a comment like this.

  14. kenberger

    Maybe we are even a bit *too* transparent.Conventions: do we really need them? Since this country is so media-driven and can only seem to consume things via TV (though at least shifting to the smarter internet more and more), it’s no surprise they are so grandiose here.

  15. kenberger

    Re the stats on how many Americans watched this debate: anecodotaly, I’m skeptical.We scoured manhattan searching for a bar with TV coverage. All people seemed to want to watch was their beer or the ballgame.

    1. Guest

      we’ll know better tomorrow. S.t.’s assertion was wrong: the initial estimates from Nielsen excluded MSNBC and Fox News, the two major political cable channels. As for your anecdotal NY observation, I believe it is representative. Most first debates have been on a Thursday; Friday is not a good TV night, especially in the big cities.What’s important to keep in mind, though, is that NY, LA and other big coastal cities have zero electoral importance, and that’s where you have a lot of entertainment options on a Friday night. Middle America is where the election will be decided, so the regional rankings are more important from electoral point of view.The initial estimates showed the St.Louis market with the highest share. Best wishes,

  16. fnazeeri

    What would be really cool is if we also showed some of the debates held in other countries to go along with it. I’d love to see what the Chinese are debating with respect to us. Fareed Zakaria has a weekly show on CNN that talks about global issues which is pretty good but it stands out most in how unique it is here in the US.

    1. fredwilson

      i agree. you really have to travel outside the US to get a sense of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

  17. leapy

    OK. Let me get this right – an enforced two-party system (even George Washington hated political parties), “he said/she said” sound-bites and negative campaigning are examples of the most open transparent democracy, are they?Having said that, I watched the debate here in the UK and was impressed, for the first time in many years, in the quality and rigour of thinking of these two candidates. It may well turn out a good thing that they both fscked their VP choices – they are going to have to carry their campaigns on their own shoulders.Of course we all know that the best form of government is a benign dictatorship, like we have here in England (NOT Scotland or Wales)…If it helps, I think the point you were trying to communicate was spot on (especially cf Russia and China) but is based on the premise that the views and principles espoused in the debate truly reflect what these guys would actually do when in power and were not just local electoral window-dressing.Where oh where is Al Gore when you need him… *ducks*

    1. leapy

      addendum:”In 1941, one of the country’s more acerbic editors, a priest named Edward Dowling, commented: “The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.” “…

  18. Graham Siener

    I wonder how the stats account for the rise of non-tv watchers. No one could download the debate in ’92, and certainly no one would have the time to download if it were available. I ended up getting it from a torrent, and I suspect a lot were in the same boat. Maybe add 5% to that 40%?

    1. fredwilson

      Great point

  19. S.t

    http://thecaucus.blogs.nyti…Debate Ratings: 52.4 Million Watched Round One”The first presidential debate of the fall garnered an average of 52.4 million viewers on Friday, Nielsen Media Research said on Monday.The relatively low audience estimate puzzled some television executives who expected a wider audience for the commercial-free forum between John McCain and Barack Obama. The debate drew 8 million fewer viewers than the first debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004 — but attracted 6 million more viewers than the second debate that year, which was similarly held on a Friday.”

    1. fredwilson

      But what about the four people in my home who watched it on the web the nextday?

  20. Scott Sanders

    Ahem. 1992 debate = Clinton + Bush + Perot, not just Clinton & Bush.