A Debate Proposal

Unfortunately I missed the Lincoln-Douglas style debate the other night between Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.  It sounded like a fun* evening, and it’s refreshing to have something different than the painful two hour affairs involving all eight candidates offering one minute soundbites.  Sadly, we’re scheduled to have 3,457** more of these standard debates.  Joy.

Recently Rick Perry suggested that this debate overload might not be the best way to pick a candidate, and he even hinted at skipping a few.  Had any of the other candidates said this he’d have been hailed a hero and carried off stage like Lincoln after the Jonesboro debate.  But since Rick Perry has had, umm, less than stellar debate performances, it came off as a bit self-serving.  Except he’s completely right.

If we must endure several more months of this debate hell, can’t we at least start thinning out the herd and allowing the candidates to go on for more than sixty seconds before some prissy debate moderator cuts them off?

One thing that we can do is start inviting only those candidates who actually have a shot at winning the nomination.  Easy enough, except now we get into a debate about who should be allowed at the debate.  This is the point where we have to pretend that Michelle Bachmann still might be the Republican nominee, so we can’t possibly shut out any candidate from the debate lest one of them gets hauled off in handcuffs protesting outside the debate hall due to his exclusion.***  In fact I can just imagine Rick Santorum breaking onto the stage bellowing “EXCUUUUUUUUSE ME” while yelling at Rick Perry that he was out of time.  Sure it would be barrels of fun to watch Ron Paul’s fanbase immolate because the good doctor and only true constitutionalist (TM) was barred from the debate halls.  But, in the interests of fairness, we probably can’t exclude any of these people.  Except for Jon Hunstman.  Seriously, I doubt Jon Hunstman views himself as a viable contender.  No one noticed that he wasn’t at the last debate, including Jon Huntsman.

So what can we do to make these debates at least a bit more tolerable?  Two changes might benefit both the candidates and the voters.  First, we should have fewer candidates on stage.  We can do this without eliminating candidates.  If we’re really going to have two debates a week, just have different candidates at the debate.  You can randomly assign candidates so that at the first debate you can have, say, Perry, Gingrich, Paul and Huntsman.  Then, at the next debate, it will be Santorum, Bachmann, Cain and Romney.  Then switch it up next week so that there are different pairings.

Second, discuss fewer topics and lengthen the time allotment.  We don’t necessarily need Lincoln-Douglas essays, but let candidates spend three or four minutes expanding upon their answers.  With four candidates you can still cover a lot of ground in ninety minutes or two hours, especially if we limit the moderators’ involvement in these affairs.  Sure it won’t be as much fun as allowing a transgendered mutant space alien to ask a question about illegal immigration while forcing the candidates to answer in Esperanto, but it has the advantage of actually lending insight into the candidates’ thought processes.

Or we can just continue with the same exact format and grow dumber with each passing minute.  The choice is yours.

*: Well, if you’re a political geek.
**: Number might be slightly exaggerated.  Just slightly.
***: This actually happened in Atlanta in 1996 to Alan Keyes.  I know because I was there supporting him and saw him get placed in the police cruiser.  That was about as close as I have ever gotten to getting involved in an OWS-style protest.  No justice for Keyes, no peace!

11 Responses to A Debate Proposal

  • Chris C. says:

    While we may not need Lincoln-Douglas essays, we definitlely need a format where candidates question each other directly with NO moderators or questioners, only a timekeeper. As far as limiting the field, should that choice be left to pollsters and polling results? I suppose no one has to televise a debate if they don’t think it would attract a large enough TV audience, but if an alternate format could be arranged in that case, viewing over the internet, announced candidates should still be free to parrticipate. If they have little or no public support sooner or later their funds will dry up and out they’ll go.

  • My ideal debate format: each candidate is given 15 minutes for opening statements. Each candidate is then given 10 minutes to respond to what their adversary said. Then each candidate has 5 minutes to close. Limit each debate to only two candidates. More than that and we merely have a joint appearance and not a debate. No questions from moderators or the audience, although written questions may be submitted in advance with candidates free to respond or ignore.

  • RR says:

    I like the round-robin idea. But I want the opposite of more uninterrupted time. Half the time they don’t even address the question. “The real question is…” No that’s not the real question! That’s your way of avoiding the real question! The other half of the time, they go off into talking points. No candidate has ever said anything important past the 30-second mark.

    Here’s an idea for a moderator-less debate: Two candidates with a chess clock connected to the mics. Each gets 15-20 minutes so they have to allocate it wisely. We can have two or three pairs of debaters a night.

    It would also be nice to have an independent non-partisan group evaluate economic plans. Like a CBO for candidates. It’s amazing what candidates can get away with saying about their economic plans.You’d never know just by listening to them that Cain’s plan adds a new sales tax, would encourage a black market, increases taxes for most Americans, and initially didn’t even have any exception for the poor or that Perry’s plan would balloon the deficit and disadvantage single middle-class people or that Newt’s plan is even worse for the deficit or that Romney has no plan to reform personal income tax. I wish Huntsman’s tax reform tax were flatter and simpler but it’s the only sane plan that has been proposed.

  • Pinky says:

    RR – I tend not to be fussy about individual tax plans. The candidates’ positions are mostly the result of the staffers they hire. If one campaign guy got a better offer from Candidate A, or was finishing up a book when Candidate B was hiring so he ended up working for Candidate C who got into the race late, then most everyone would be pitching different plans. And no one’s going to say that Candidate D has a good plan, so each one’s got to propose something different. And, ultimately, any one of the candidates as president would sign any one of the plans if it made it through Congress.

    I’d like to see one candidate at a time being interviewed. Ninety minutes, no “gotchas”. Half hour on economic/fiscal policy, half hour on foreign/military, half hour on social. I’ve got my problems with Charlie Rose, but he’d be as good as anyone.

  • RR says:

    The quality of interviews depends largely on the quality of the interviewer. Charlie Rose is good because he interrupts droning speeches. I like gotchas, not because of the substance of the questions and answers, but because it can throw candidates off and show us how well they can handle unexpected situations. Palin handles gotchas well even though she really should know the answers to questions like “what do you read?” Cain and Perry are horrible. The other candidates are quite good. Santorum stumbled when asked about DADT but that’s because he holds an indefensible position on the issue.

  • Pinky says:

    I guess the “gotchas” that I’m sick of are the ones they have on the Sunday morning talk shows. I remember Tim Russert used to have some interesting questions, but he always seemed more interesting in the swing than in running the bases. So many interviewers today are looking for the news-breaker moment. I can’t think of a person I’d trust to conduct the kind of interviews I’m thinking of. Maybe someone like Bill Kristol?

  • Sharon says:

    c-spanvideo.org
    click *browse*
    look under featured programs
    Herman Cain-Newt Gingrich Lincoln-Douglas Style Debate

    the first 10-15 minutes are introductions

    the last questions are hilarious

  • RR says:

    Thanks Sharon. I watched it. Cain is so out of his league. I think it’s Newt’s time to shine. He’s really gotta be more positive though. He seems so mad all the time.

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