Debating the debating of debates

The Houston Chronicle reports on this issue, and asks a worthwhile question: is there a meaningful difference between a forum and a debate?

To run through a quick summary of the issue, Ben Hall recently challenged Parker to six debates, Parker responded with a counteroffer of just one debate including all candidates and then ultimately got her way. However, the nature of the issue recently changed when the two front runners began arguing about formalities like word choice.

Evidently, the issue at hand was an event held by the Baptist Ministers’ Association of Houston, to be held tomorrow at 6PM. Parker’s campaign, in conversations with Morris’ article in the Chronicle, insinuated that this was in fact a debate, providing their own definition. Sue Davis, Parker’s communications director, provided this statement:

“When you’re standing there and you’re all on stage at the same time and you’re each taking questions and you’re all answering them and then you make a closing statement, if that’s not a debate, I don’t know what is. That’s just silly.”

Hall’s campaign, represented by his press secretary, Julia Smekalina, released a short & sweet counterstatement:

“A debate is a televised, moderated, formal event on neutral turf.”

To be fair, I do not completely agree with either of these definitions. Since nobody uses dictionaries anymore, we’ll consult Google for our definition: “A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.”

Hall’s campaign was pretty much right about everything except the televised part. What Davis described was not a debate, it was a forum, of which there is a difference. Google defines that word as “A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”

A forum, simply put, sounds like what this Baptist Ministers’ event is. In a forum, the candidates may answer questions and exchange opening/closing statements, but they most certainly do not debate. In these types of events, the candidates simply give stump speeches one after another, they do not have the opportunity to critique each others positions (or lack thereof). As far as I can tell, the October 8th event is the only debate we are having this election.

Needless to say, Texpatriate (or at least, myself) will be at this event, however you would name it, to see what is going on. It will be my penultimate weekend in Houston until Christmas, so I will attempt to make the most of it.

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