After Tuesday night's debate, I am highly tempted to write a scathing, politically polarized article where I outline my major issues with one particular candidate and rip him apart for his insulting comments and his poor performance.
Alternatively, I am tempted to use my column space to express my frustration with the entire debate itself: the constant interruptions of moderator Candy Crowley by both candidates, the constant attacks on the character and the policies of each candidate, and the frequent failure to directly answer the questions posed by voters, instead using often much more time than was allotted to them to promote unrelated aspects of their platforms. But upon some reflection, I would rather use this column today to emphasize what is perhaps the most important thing to take away from this debate: nothing less than our First Amendment rights.
The United States is not the only country to incorporate presidential debates in its campaign process, but our debates make world news, being prominently featured by newspapers such as the BBC and France's Le Monde. Something about our presidential debates has always attracted enormous audiences, both here and abroad. While it makes little sense on the surface why foreign countries would care about the televised arguments between our presidential candidates, we must remember two things about our presidential elections.
Firstly, even despite the current shifts in power that our world is undergoing, the president of the United States remains one of the most powerful people in the world. No wonder the whole world is watching. The results of this upcoming election are extremely important to other countries, because our president for the next four years will play an instrumental role in determining worldwide foreign policy and foreign affairs.
Secondly, the United States in the eyes of many countries around the world remains a touchstone for examples of internally peaceful democracies that thrive on free speech and voter input. As frustrating as the town hall debate setup can (and did) become, we live in a country where such a debate is an expected part of the presidential campaign, where the candidates have a chance to describe their policies, criticize the other candidate or the incumbent, and take direct questions from involved voters. Furthermore, the voters have a chance to express disillusionment with policies, outline their desires for the upcoming four years, and feel as though their voices are being heard. And that, above all, is what I believe should be taken away from Tuesday's debate.
There are still many countries in the world today where citizens do not have these rights and privileges, where there are often no other candidates in elections, where debates about policies are unheard of, and where an individual vote means almost nothing. Free speech is never something that we as Americans should take for granted, especially around election time. We can post whatever we want on Facebook or Twitter about the candidates without fearing for our lives. We can vote in an atmosphere where we are not intimidated by one party or another. We can write columns in student newspapers about our political views, and we will not be expelled or even reprimanded for publishing our opinions.
Tuesday's debate was frustrating at times, and undoubtedly everyone has a strong opinion about it and about the candidates in one way or another. But regardless of your political leanings or your issues with the debate, remember how fortunate you are to be able to have an opinion at all.
— Sarah Russell is a senior in history. She can be reached at email@example.com.