The political debate. It’s a chance to see and hear from those who wish to represent us in government. But for the candidates seeking office, only they can truly appreciate the stress and pressure that comes with it.
There have been some extraordinary debate moments.
“I want you to know I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” President Ronald Reagan, who was 73 at the time, said in his 1984 debate with the younger Walter Mondale. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Then there was U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, running to become vice president in 1988, responding to his upper chamber colleague Dan Quayle, who had compared himself to John F. Kennedy.
“I served with Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen told George H.W. Bush’s running mate.
“I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Good or bad, memorable or forgotten, political debates are a vital thread knitting our democratic landscape together. They help voters get to know candidates and what they stand for. Debates force them to be held accountable for statements or positions they have taken. And they allow us to assess the candidates’ character, completely unfiltered.
Most of all, debates show that we, as Americans, can disagree with one another, but do so in a civil way that leads to solutions rather than conflict. These forums are the very essence of listening to all sides of an issue, hearing how people stand, and then coming to our own conclusions — as well as deciding on the person we want to represent us in voicing our beliefs.
In just a few weeks — on Feb. 13 — voters across the North Shore of Long Island and parts of Queens will elect a new member of Congress to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. George Santos. The vote will cap a special election race between the former Democratic holder of Santos’ seat, Tom Suozzi, and Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip.
Suozzi is pushing for more debates, according to published reports. Pilip, however, fewer.
At this point, there is just one debate scheduled between the two, and it happens mere days before actual Election Day. That means the thousands of people who chose to vote early will not have a chance to hear the two candidates debate the issues.
Debates have perhaps never been more vital than in this race, just 15 months after voters elected Santos, a man they later discovered they knew nothing about. It is crucial that voters get to know Suozzi and Pilip, what their positions are and how they would represent their constituents. There’s no such thing as too many debates, at least not in this race.
It’s great that both Suozzi and Pilip have been accessible to the media — both, for example, have agreed to individually sit down with the Herald to take questions from our reporters — but nothing compares to being on stage and taking your case straight to the people whose votes you want.
We can’t have another George Santos situation. We urge Suozzi and Pilip to debate.
Be civil. Share ideas. Disagree. And give all of us everything we need to make the most informed decision we can on Feb. 13.