Monday, November 02, 2015

Fixing the Debates

I hate presidential debates. They are group press conferences where, if we're lucky, a pro-wrestling interview breaks out. The revisions demanded by Republicans would make them worse, turning them into group infomercials. 

Gotcha Questions
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. ~ Harry Truman
Republican want an end to "gotcha questions." While loaded questions (When did you stop beating your wife?) are unfair, "what newspapers do you read" shouldn't be a tough question. When Becky Quick asked Ben Carson about his financially insane 10% tithe tax plan that was not playing gotcha, it was a tough question that needed answering. If you want to be President you should be able to handle tough questions.

Stupid Questions
Elvis or Johnny Cash? ~ Asked by CNN's John King during a 2012 Republican debate
The bane of American debates. For some reason TV talking heads believe in asking questions so dumb Entertainment Tonight would reject them. They are a waste of time and brain cells.

How I Would Change the Debates

Limit Participants
Two candidates are perfect, three and four are okay. Five on a stage is getting crowded. Ten? That's a mob, not a debate. Break the Republican horde into groups of four or five. Scatter the polling leaders among the groups so there is not one major debate with minor satellites. The leaders can be gathered in 2016 when the bottom dwellers are winnowed out.

Two Hours with Chairs
Let them sit at tables or desks. Lincoln and Douglas stood during their debates in 1858 but that was so people in the back could see them. Chairs make more sense in a television age. In the first Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960, Nixon injured his knee prior to the debate, prolonged standing made him visibly uncomfortable. Should presidential decisions depend on not having an infected toenail? The Kennedy-Nixon debate was one hour long. Ninety minutes to two hours is plenty of time, this is not an endurance contest.

No Commercials
Are we choosing the leader of the Free World or boner pills? The networks have civic responsibility to offer their time without commercial breaks.

Fewer Question, More Answers
The Kennedy-Nixon debate had one moderator (Howard K. Smith) and three questioners from different news agencies. The format allowed for two and a half minute responses with ninety second rebuttals. Each question allowed for five minutes of substance. The CNBC rules were one minute responses with thirty second rebuttals only if allowed by the moderators.

For a five-handed debate, each question could have a two minute response with up to four one minute rebuttals. That would allow for at least three questions for each debater.

A two-handed debate could allow for two minute responses, one minute rebuttals, and thirty second responses to the rebuttal.

Limit Topics
One debate on foreign policy questions only. Another on domestic policy. A third on candidates specific policy positions. I like the idea of asking candidates about their opponent's policy positions.
None of these things will happen. Campaign consultants live in a soundbite world. Long answers and rebuttals are poison to their quick quote world. Television stations want excitement and conflict not policy discussions. They want the candidates to personally attack each other. Most candidates don't have well thought out policy goals (Trump and Carson) while those that do (Ted Cruz) want to keep them secret. So we will continue to get these circus performances masquerading as debates.

1 comment:

Katy Anders said...

These are good points.

Obviously, debates like these are not interviews - you're not going to get in-depth answers. However, when I watched the first 2 debates, there were so many people on stage and there was so much space between 1 candidate being asked a question that I actually FORGOT a couple of them were up there.