The effect of political debate at any time, but especially at election time, is to polarize opinion.
When Kathleen Parker, writing in the National Review, expressed a serious concern about Governor Palin's qualifications for high office [Palin Problem], she was inundated with hate mail from fellow conservatives who regarded her as a traitor to the Republican cause [Speak Correctly]. Speaking engagements were mysteriously cancelled, and yet she bravely continues to discuss Governor Palin's strengths and weaknesses [Bridge to Somewhere].
Are there Democrats raising critical questions about the Obama-Biden ticket? Apart from Bill and Hillary of course.
For the record, I think that both Governor Palin and Senator Biden were poor choices for running mate. (If you are going to copy someone else's speech, you might at least choose a speech that won an election, not one that lost an election. Duh.)
But then I don't really understand the purpose of the running mate in the American system, unless it is to make the candidate look amazingly good in comparison. [See my post on Political Double Acts.] Maybe Senators McCain and Obama got together in private and jointly agreed to appoint a couple of complete bozos. Yeah, as if.
But let me come back to the question of partisanship. Surely it cannot be a good thing if intelligent and critical debate is swept aside in the name of party loyalty? Who benefits from this suppression of intelligent debate?
I'll tell you who benefits, it's the political establishment, that's who. [See my post Why is politics boring?] Partisanship creates two unbridgeable gulfs - the first one between the two parties, and the second one (perhaps even more important) between the people who are gripped by the process and the people who are alienated by the process. People who don't think it matters if a candidate doesn't have a clue what the Bush doctrine is, people who think it's okay to make casual remarks about the Indians in fast food outlets. And people who, if they watch the debates at all, watch them in the same spirit as watching one of those dreadful reality shows in which minor celebrities try out their skills at ballroom dancing or something - half-hoping they will fall over and voting for them if they manage not to. Train wreck politics.