10: It would be cheap; the only capital requirements would be an internet connection and website page – resources that, we can probably safely say, most presidential campaigns already have. As for the advocate, or team of advocates – there would probably be plenty high quality prospects prospect who, simply out of civic concern, would volunteer to work for nothing. (And as such, it would reduce the impact of money on a political contest, and so “level the playing field.”)
9: By not directly involving the candidates themselves, such debates would inherently focus more on policy than on personality. (Voters, however, would also get a more realistic perspective of the quality of the people who support the candidates, and what their administrations would be like.)
8: Such a supplemental written debate (prior to the oral quasi-debates between the candidates) would add a more disciplined discussion to the campaign process that would appeal to more educated, white-collar voters – a demographic that is arguably neglected in one or more of the present campaigns. Such debate on Islam in particular is one that actually lends itself to debate. There are Islamic Scriptures – the Quran and the Sunna – to refer to. And while the Quran is difficult, the Sunna – which is biography – is not, and it informs the Quran. According to leading Islamic scholar Bill Warner, a former quantum physicist who, after 9/11, dedicated himself to making Islam understandable for all Americans, the debate about Islam can be reduced to a few arguments.
6: Such a debate would circumvent any undue influence on the subject by special interests, or by dominant political/educational establishments. In particular, with regard to high school and college textbooks, which critics contend present a sanitized and misleading view of Islam. This is, many contend, due primarily to an imperative of modern democratic education to emphasize similarities of different peoples over their differences. It is also due, however, some argue, to the influence Saudi Arabian money that has been directed to the history/Mideast departments of universities – that is, to the departments from which high school and college textbook authors are found.
5: Because of the threat of Islamic terror, this is an issue that – unless adequate security measures can be taken – is not an issue that can be safely discussed publicly. For most local events, typically low-budget, such security measures are not an option. And, unless the public event were not publically advertised (which would reduce attendance only to the “choir”) promoters and location managers would have no way of knowing who might respond, and so would not be able to guarantee the safety of any who might attend. And we have already seen the reality of the threat: there was a lethal attack attempted in Garland, Texas – an attack that prevented only because that event was not really a local one, but a national media event, and had taken adequate security measures. Such a lethal attack was successful, however, in Copenhagen, Belgium last year, where two were killed and five injured at a meeting to discuss Islam and free speech. Presidential candidates need to discuss this issue for they are among the few people who can do so safely while, even in only an email debate, or mostly so, attracting significant public attention.
4: A debate, however, requires two opposing points of view. At the level of national politics, Trump’s view as a candidate – one that perceives that Islam itself may inherently be a threat – is unusual. When he made his proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigration during the primaries, he was joined – to any extent at all by only two other candidates, Ted Cruz, Ron Paul and Ben Carson. (Cruz and Paul offered a more circumspect proposal.) The three, like Trump, were political outsiders. Of the remaining 12 Republican candidates – all of whom were established politicians – none expressed any support for such a proposal, and some (including Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie) affirmatively condemned it. As did also Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House. All this, and notwithstanding the fact that a majority of Americans have come to support Trump’s position! )
If Trump loses, what candidate, in 2020, of either party, – after 4 more years of high Muslim immigration (as Muslims vote about 90% Democratic, this high level would, under a continuing Democratic administration, seem very likely) – might dare raise such an issue? It seems likely that, if Trump loses, and has not challenged his Democratic opponent to a real debate on this issue in this present campaign, it seems unlikely that, at this level, there will ever be such a debate at all. Such debate needs to take place now.
3: On an issue such as this – where one side contends that there is a threat against the nation that calls for action – there is a special need for serious, thorough and disciplined debate. For it is the natural inclination of people, already burdened with the business of living, to deny the existence of threats that would require the shouldering of additional burdens. The burden of proof is always heavily on those raising the alarm. Such a debate would provide a vehicle to meet that burden, if it is in fact justified.
2: Such a disciplined intellectual process, where both sides must directly confront the best arguments that their opponents have to offer, is a process that any elected official, before the implementation of any policy, should undergo in any case. And if it should be done in case, then it were best done publicly, during the political campaign prior to the election.
To many, however, this may seem to be a dubious justification. For surely, for candidates competing for the highest office of this world-leading nation of 320 million, both (or all) have already fully considered all of the arguments of their opponents. Surely that must be so. But is it?
This is a democracy, and the candidates that rise to the top do so not because of their argumentative skills or accomplishment, but because they reflect the viewpoints of their supporters. And many of those supporters are in fact ignorant of the rationales of their opponents, and scorn to learn them. It is not difficult to conceive that such Americans elevate those who not only share their political opinion, but their attitude of defiant ignorance as well. After all, what incentive is there to do otherwise?
With an ignorant electorate, there is none. So, in a democracy, it is not just candidates that need to be persuaded, but their supporters. Real, substantive debates between candidates creates an example for such persuasion, and implicitly asserts the need for it – for the consideration of opposing arguments. And if the candidates themselves have already fully considered the opposing arguments, then there should be no great problem in recording those considerations for the public to see. This is not simply a process the candidates should undergo, but the electorate as well.
1: The transcripts of such debates would be documents uniquely balanced and authoritative. They would provide no answer, only facts and arguments. It would be up to the voters to decide what the answers are. As such, they would not simply be political documents, but educational ones. And ones uniquely relevant – not simply for voters, but also for those not yet eligible for voting – that is, high school students. (And those newly eligible – that is, college students.) Relevant, authoritative, where the best of both sides are presented , this is the type of material that should be our high schools in the first place.
But it’s not there. Instead, we have “state-approved,” textbooks that, striving for neutrality, do not overtly discuss political issues at all. But, on history, civics and other subjects, which must undergo an editing process – the selection of some materials over others – neutrality is not possible. Without conflicting materials coming from conflicting sources, such state-approved material becomes secular scripture, and our education educates not for democracy, but trains for tyranny. We need to acknowledge this reality, and include material based on that recognition. Debates that present not a single narrative, but conflicting points of view, do this.
And, if Islam is in fact incompatible with democracy, then we must assert the principles of democracy over Islam. In particular, we must assert the principle of free and open discussion over any prohibition of criticism of Islam. Just as we demand of all students to consider conflicting points of view, we must to demand the same of Muslim students – even when such material may include criticism of Islam. A real, written debate between presidential candidates on that issue is a step in that direction.