The debates are an institution now, and among the most watched television events in America. They are one place in the modern campaign — perhaps the only place — where the voter is treated with respect. They are the one time when the major candidates appear together side by side under conditions they do not control. They are a relief from the nasty commercials that dominate the campaign, fed by donations that are effectively unlimited and anonymous. Broadcasters provide the television time for the debates, without commercials, as a rare public service.
While the debate may be very high-minded, the analysis and spin is not. As Kevin Drum persuasively argues in Mother Jones, the post-debate analysis can have a significant impact on how voters viewers the candidates.
This is why I always try to write up my thoughts on debates and speeches without listening to any commentary first. If I don’t, it’s nearly impossible to disentangle my own thoughts from those I’ve heard from the TV commentators. That way lies groupthink.