One of the commenters on my “Sign of Decay” blog item correctly points out that what we’re calling candidate debates are in fact not debates, as anyone who has seen a real debate knows. (Those encounters back in the day between William F. Buckley Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith were great fun — the forensic equivalent of the Ali-Frazier fights.) So why are these current simultaneous candidate press conferences called debates when no one is debating anyone else? Chirping at one another from time to time, but hardly debating.
As is so often the case, the answer to this one is best illustrated by an exchange in one of the Duke’s old movies, in this instance Chisum, from 1970. Early in the movie the Duke’s character is riding into town with his sidekick, played by Ben Johnson, to pick up someone from the Noon Train. When noon arrives the train is nowhere in sight and the Johnson character complains to the station manager, played by Hank Worden, “Why do they call it the Noon Train? It don’t never get in before sundown.” The station manager looks at him likes he’s a hopeless fool and replies, “Had to call it something.”