Is it time to slap an NC-17 rating on our presidential debates? Civics teachers have long encouraged students to watch the TV broadcasts, thinking they’ll learn something about the workings of American democracy and the great battle of ideas. But this electoral season’s debates haven’t exactly been kid-friendly. In the Republican primaries, Donald Trump personally insulted his rivals (remember “Lyin’ Ted”?) and discussed the size of his hands and his “something else” on stage. Since then, the debates have only grown more explicit. This week’s showdown between Trump and Hillary Clinton saw the GOP nominee asked about a 2005 hot-mike recording in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the p----.” (See Main Stories and Controversy.) Trump in turn used Bill Clinton’s sordid past to attack Hillary, noting that several women who’d accused the former president of sexual assault were in the audience, and then pledged to put his rival “in jail.” The debate was less Lincoln vs. Douglas and more Jerry Springer, complete with angry finger-pointing, accusations of criminality, and spouses confronted with old infidelities.
Knowing what was coming, many parents banned their kids from watching the debate, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Trenna Sutcliffe, a pediatrician from Los Altos, Calif., told her 8- and 6-year-old that they couldn’t watch because “there were going to be a lot of unkind words.” Now, politics has always been a contact sport, and part of the fun of presidential debates is seeing a candidate reel from a well-delivered zinger, like Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again” line against Jimmy Carter. But this election’s face-offs are no longer governed by Queensberry Rules, and it might get worse yet before it’s over. I can only hope that by the time my 3-year-old daughter is old enough to stay up and watch a debate, she won’t want to—because once again it’ll be 90 minutes of policy talk that will bore the kid to sleep.