As anybody who's watched recent presidential encounters knows, political debates can be a silly business. The candidates stick to the same carefully honed and well-rehearsed talking points no matter what the question is or what their opponent says.
But even at their worst, debates are worth having. They give us a look at how the candidates respond in an unscripted (or at least not totally scripted) situation. We can see how well they can think on their feet and whether they've taken the trouble to study up on the issues.
Which is why we're disappointed that Greg Walden and Chris Dudley have been so bashful about debating their opponents during this campaign season.
Walden, a veteran congressman, has been challenged by Democratic opponent Joyce Seger to five debates in different areas of his vast 2nd District. Seger points out that Walden's record on debating isn't good: He's either allowed no debates or has agreed to hold one only in Medford, which is at the southern end of the district and hard for many of his constituents to travel to.
We can understand why Walden feels no need to debate. He's got one of the safest Republican districts in the country, and after 10 years in Congress he hardly needs to build name recognition. But with all the vital issues facing the country in this election year - everything from the quagmire in Afghanistan to the lingering Great Recession to the mess in the Gulf of Mexico - he owes it to voters to explain his positions in an open forum.
With Chris Dudley, the need for debates is even clearer. While Walden is a known quantity, Dudley remains a political enigma. He came out of nowhere, having never held any public office - not even so much as a school board seat. About all we've learned from his campaign ads so far is that he used to play in the NBA, he started a foundation to help kids with diabetes and he wants to be governor.
And, oh yeah, he wants lower taxes and create jobs.
Dudley ducked out of a debate before the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association in the spring, claiming he had to go on a family vacation. (As it turned out, he actually went to Aspen for a Republican fundraiser and strategy session.) His Democratic rival, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, offered to debate him seven times in seven different cities across the state, but so far Dudley has agreed to only one debate, on Oct. 7 in Portland.
That's too little - one debate isn't enough to adequately explore all the tough issues facing Oregon. And it's too late - only a week before ballots are mailed out.
Dudley is asking voters to give him the most important and most difficult job in state government. If he expects us to entrust him with the future of Oregon, the least he can do is face his opponent mano-á-mano. For his reluctance to do it, we're applying El BOOT-o to Dudley's culo - and another one to Walden's for good measure.