I have a rant against Presidential debates, which I'll probably (not) write up on Thursday, but here today in TNR there is one good idea: No more moderators who will let candidates say anything. Journalists are either unable or unwilling to call a candidate on a falsehood, and perhaps they shouldn't even try. Bring in real experts instead.
The debates are dull because they're predictable. They've become formulaic. The same (or interchangeable) talking heads ask the same (or interchangeable) questions and solicit the same (or interchangeable) answers. Every candidate knows how to prepare, staging rehearsals in which they practice their sound-bites while a staffer plays the role of the opponent. When the debate rolls around, not even the jokes are spontaneous.
What to do? Alas, the Commission on Presidential Debates can't replace the candidates themselves. But it can do something that would be just as salutary, if not more so: End the journalism world's monopoly on seats at the moderator's table--and bring in real experts to grill the candidates. . . .
Perhaps worst of all, the moderators have lost their authority. . . Voters now view TV journalists not as their thoughtful, disinterested proxies in interrogating the candidates but as just another crop of missionaries from inside the Beltway. With due respect to Jim Lehrer, no Cronkite or Brinkley commands universal esteem anymore.
Which is why it's time to cut Lehrer and his peers out of the proceedings altogether. Instead, let's bring in a new breed of questioner. Not just anyone, but our most respected professionals who have devoted their lives to thinking about our social and political problems and what makes for a successful president. Who would be the panelists? Betraying a professional bias, I'd include a historian. History doesn't have answers to current problems, but an able historian may help provide some perspective beyond the frenzy over the issue of the day. Given the never-ending interest in presidential "character," it might be worthwhile to add a psychoanalyst to the panel, [God no, let's not! -- Sterling] who could extend the discussion of personality beyond the airing of scurrilous private details. Next, maybe a political theorist, to examine the candidates' philosophies. Finally, perhaps, a top educator or college president.