Toast rack

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 12:00am

Language is important. When George Orwell wrote the novel 1984 he included an essay that analysed the way language can be used as a weapon to confuse and demoralise people. Hence, in 1984, the propaganda ministry, which manufactures nothing but lies, is known as the Ministry of Truth. And so we come to the presidential debates in the United States, a more recent example of language used to obfuscate the truth and debilitate the intellect.

The key word here is 'debate', the origins of which lie in the Latin word disbattere, or 'to fight' and 'reverse'. The point being that a debate should see opposite opinions collide until one proponent is ready 'to fight' or 'reverse' their opinion. The presidential debates could not be further from this ideal. In the latest, senators John McCain and Barack Obama had a chance to debate directly on the key issue of hunting Osama bin Laden but moderator Tom Brokaw stepped in to keep them apart, cheating the American people - and those watching worldwide - of an opportunity to see an honest exchange of views.

Of course, the rules are designed to avoid exposing the candidates to excessive scrutiny. It is more important for them to survive unscathed than to win on the arguments. Maybe the events should be rebranded as 'presidential beauty contests' and we could have the running mates add a Miss World-style talent section. Who wouldn't want to see Senator Joe Biden sing I Will Survive while juggling pom-poms? The last debate takes place on Wednesday. With the world going to hell in a hand basket, it's time for the candidates to engage each other head-on.