If we’re going to treat presidential elections as the political equivalent of the Super Bowl, is it too much to ask that we also treat the early Democratic debates like meaningless preseason football games?
That’s what the Democratic presidential debates taking place this week in Miami, Florida, really are. Like spring training baseball, these debates are about star players trying to avoid season-ending injuries while giving minor-leaguers a chance to show their stuff, even if they don’t stand a chance of making the opening day roster.
All but the most die-hard fans ignore these matches. Dear reader, I hope you do the same with this week’s debates.
Do anything else. Pet your dog. Talk to your spouse. Call a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Take a walk. Go to a ballgame, or at least watch one on TV. If you need a hit of patriotism, there’s a match tonight between the U.S. men’s soccer team and Panama that will provide all the red, white, and blue bunting you crave. Sure, soccer’s offside rule might not make sense, but neither does Bernie Sanders’ plan to cancel student loan debt—and the soccer game is sure to feature fewer own-goals than a debate that includes Bill de Blasio.
Or, go to a movie. If you want to see a rowdy bunch of weirdos challenge a big bad guy who has misguided ideas about how to create prosperity—well, I think Avengers: Endgame is still playing at some theaters.
The point is: you have options, and most of them are better than watching the first two Democratic debates.
Nothing that happens on stage in Miami this week is going to decide the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. How could it? We are more than 220 days from the very first votes being cast. Unless you live in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina, you have until March 2020 to make up your mind about which Democrat to support. Most of the people on stage this week won’t even be in the race by then. You will have forgotten their names, assuming you bothered to learn them in the first place (by the way, there are two “n”s and one “t” in “Michael Bennet”).
You want proof all this is starting too soon? In mid-June 2015—220-ish days before the first votes were cast in the last election cycle—Donald Trump had only just declared his candidacy. The first debate wasn’t held until August. That means someone at the Democratic National Committee looked at the clown show that was the 2016 presidential election and decided Hey, you know what the problem was? The campaign didn’t last long enough.
Bad ratings are the only way these folks are going to learn their lesson.
If you do plan to watch the debates this week, I hope you’ll ask yourself what there is to glean from watching former congressman John Delaney (polling at 0.4 percent) try to grab the spotlight for 30 seconds. Do you really believe that Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif., polling at less than 0.1 percent) or writer/”spiritual guru” Marianne Williamson (also less than 0.1 percent) is going to blow your mind Thursday night?
If you watch, you are wasting your time. And time is money. In his excellent 2011 book The Ethics of Voting, Jason Brennan calculates that—under the most generous of circumstances—a vote in a national election is worth about 1/2,600th of a penny. Sure, you want that vote to be an informed one, but you can get informed without watching this week’s debates.
Read a book. Try out a new video game. Make pot brownies. Sit outside and stare at the sky. Any of those things will do more for your mental state, and the opportunity cost is so low it effectively doesn’t exist.
Voting in the Democratic primaries or the general election next year doesn’t require sitting through two nights of cattle-call debates more than six months before the first primary votes are cast. If one of the candidates comes to your town, go see what they have to say. Pay attention to the news, if you can bear it.
But when it comes to these made-for-Twitter democracy gameshows, you can wait to tune in until later this year, when the field has narrowed and there’s a chance for real clash and conflict between debate participants. If you must know what happens on Wednesday and Thursday night this week, all the important parts will be replayed ad nauseam for the next few days on cable news. (And of course, read our ongoing coverage here at Reason dot com!)
Check the box scores and watch the highlights—if you must—but please, please try to ignore politics for just a few hours tonight.
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