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!