In anticipation of the final presidential debate, HLS Professor and Director of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program Robert Bordone and Clinical Fellow Heather Scheiwe Kulp weighed in on the previous debates from a mediator’s point of view.

After the first presidential debate, it was hard to tell whether the pollsters and pundits were talking about the NFL or the candidates’ meeting. President Obama’s “prevent defense” and “two-yard runs down the middle” were criticized, while Romney was said to have “spiked the football.”

If the presidential debate was reported more as a sporting event, the vice presidential debate seemed more a horror movie. The next day’s newsbytes cited the vice president’s “show of teeth” and “barroom brawling” and Rep. Paul Ryan’s “lacerating blows.” Some even called Biden “unhinged.”

As conflict resolution professionals whose entire professional lives are devoted to teaching others how to listen more effectively to each other and engage in genuine, learning dialogue, we had high hopes for the “town hall” format of Tuesday’s Presidential debate. Here, at last, would be a chance for a real conversation between citizens and candidates and, as the format originally intended, between the two candidates themselves. The format, in theory, would invite both candidates to respond directly to questions from undecided voters in the room, making the kind of hand-to-hand, tit-for-tat jousting of previous debates more unseemly and inappropriate in front of the seated citizens.

Read the rest of the article on the Harvard Negotiation Law Review website.

 

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