Let's Talk: Is political debate becoming too personal and needlessly savage?

With the United States election drawing near, recent weeks have seen a political debate between the two presidential candidates — the Republican’s Donald Trump and the Democratic party’s Hillary Clinton.

You’d like to think that these sorts of meetings would be professional and would give undecided voters insight into party policies.

However, the attacks on Hillary Clinton have raised interesting questions about the vicious treatment of female politicians worldwide, and also make you wonder if political debate is becoming too personal and needlessly savage.

A post by Mary-Rose MacColl, author of In Falling Snow, The Birth Wars and Swimming Home, highlights that in describing women as ‘tough’ the word is more often seen as an insult rather than a compliment.

“Toughness might be valued in men, but not in women,” MacColl writes.

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She pinpoints the treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister Julia Gillard.

“[She] was described as tough too, as an insult. It joined others, heartless, barren, frumpy, empty-kitchened, weak, big-arse, a bitch, a witch,” MacColl writes.

Editor, journalist, columnist, author and blogger, Mia Freedman is equally concerned about the direction in which political debate is heading.

Faced with unprecedented viciousness toward Hillary Clinton recently, Freedman struggled to identify where she had heard it all before… And then it dawned on her. Julia Gillard.

During Gillard’s prime ministership the then Opposition Leader called for her to be sent to jail, a somewhat similar cry of “Lock her up” can be heard at many of Trump’s rallies when talking about Hillary Clinton.

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Just as with the name calling during Gillard’s time, there are many names being bandied about right now when describing Clinton.

The US debates took a nasty turn when the attacks and slurs dominated. Trump levelled a series of charges against Clinton including that she attacked women who accused her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, of sexual abuse and making a promise that he would send the former secretary of state to jail if he were elected president.

He repeatedly interrupted her and made unfounded remarks about her policies as well as her judgement and character. He also called her “a liar” and “the Devil”. He followed her around the room as she answered questions from voters during the debate.

As Freedman says: “Politicians can be polarising. But please do not even try to suggest that Kevin Rudd or John Howard or Barack Obama or even Tony Abbott or Trump Himself has ever been subject to the same treatment as Julia Gillard or Hillary Clinton.”

What do you think about this issue? Is there a place for the personal in political debate or should politicians focus on policy and addressing the issues important to voters?