Democrats playing a bad hand this debate season

Debates have been a staple of the democratic process for millennia. From the acrimonious debates of the Roman Senate to the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 to today, people rely on debates to learn about candidates and their position on the issues. But there’s something weird in the air this year.

There is always a political calculus applied to debates; incumbents tend to seek fewer debates while challengers routinely demand more. Whether a candidate is enthusiastic when it comes to debates depends on a lot of factors. A shy or inarticulate candidate might be less inclined to debate than one who is glib and knowledgeable. This all makes perfect sense.

But there’s a real paucity of debates this election cycle. Candidates for governor in Arizona won’t debate at all this year. In Nevada, voters will be deprived of debates between the candidates in both races for governor and the U.S. Senate. The Senate races in Pennsylvania and Georgia have been marked by unusual reluctance to debate on the part of the candidates. What’s going on?

One of the factors governing debates this year involves the issues that are in play. By way of analogy, poker players know that if they’re holding a bad hand, it’s best to fold and wait for the next deal. The political equivalent for a candidate holding unpopular positions is to refuse to debate; to not lay their cards on the table. This makes as much sense as anything else.

The September 19 NBC News Poll shows that Democrats are deeply underwater on inflation and immigration, two high profile issues this year. President Biden’s party is similarly distrusted on issues including the broader economy, border security, crime, protecting the rights of Americans, and even the more nebulous issues of, “getting things done,” and “bringing the country together.”

Abortion is also top of mind among voters this year and surveys indicate that Democrats hold an edge over Republicans on that issue. In addition to abortion, un-polled but potent issues involving gender and critical race theory are also on the ballot. Issues like these are different in a debate because they are subject to voter evaluation that is more deeply rooted in morality than, say, economic policy.

The morality on which millions of Americans rely resides in the Bible, and this is the lens through which biblical Christians tend to view debate topics like abortion. The Bible is silent on the act of abortion, prompting some pro-abortion advocates to claim Christians should agree with them. We don’t know if people claiming scriptural support for abortion believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God but if pressed to wager on that point, I know how I would bet.

Conversely, the matter of life is addressed in scores of Bible chapters and verses. Biblical Christians believe not only that we should not kill, but that we also are commanded to preserve the life of others. Setting euphemisms aside, the act of abortion involves killing, which many people vociferously support. Partisan abortion activists today debate in favor of killing people with as much fervor as their 19th century Democrat counterparts did for owning them.

A similar biblical morality would be applied to debate issues involving gender and critical race theory. Humans are made in the image of God, man and woman alike, with no biblical wriggle room for something in between. While the thankfully rare cases of people afflicted by chromosomal abnormalities demand our compassion, prayers and aid in fully participating in American life, the gender ideology that exploits these occasional human tragedies is scripturally unsupportable and unable to withstand the forensic scrutiny of debate.

As for classroom and societal constructs that demand we treat people well or poorly based on their appearance, they are utterly repudiated by the teachings of Jesus Christ. To the extent that scripture was used in support of racist policies in the past, it is not the fault of biblical Christianity. It is the fault of sinful, imperfect men who chose to ignore the Bible’s teachings. Even without any faith component, it’s impossible to successfully debate in support of racial discrimination.

Democrats know they are campaigning from a position of weakness this year so it’s unsurprising they would be more reluctant to debate when they’re on the wrong side of public opinion. The policies of the president are not helping them and the position of their party on issues that touch on morality and faith are untenable to many Americans.

The secular and moral contours of the 2022 midterm elections are not helpful to Democrats so there is no benefit for them to debate. Instead, there’s a political calculation that reticence is preferable to openness; to fold rather than to try and bluff a bad hand. This is a tell for voters. People who seek to govern while refusing to describe how are not to be trusted.

Scott Hogenson is a political and social commentator who lives in Texas.

Photo credit: Vector Stock license

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