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One Good Idea to Fix the Debates...

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.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2004 06:56 pm (UTC)
An economist should be required. (Sure, I'd like Krugman or DeLong, but anyone reasonably honest would do. Or have Krugman and Milton Friedman, for balance.)

In a war year such as this, a military historian, or a historian whose expertise was in the same region as the war, would be good. (I'm not just thinking Juan Cole today; I'm also reaching way back and thinking that if there'd been Presidential debates in 1968, and if Bernard Fall hadn't stepped on a landmine in Vietnam in 1967, he'd have been the guy for the job back then.)
Sep. 28th, 2004 09:45 pm (UTC)
I agree about the historian, and I agree with RT about having an economist.

With so many voters basing their choice on faith, it might be a good idea to have a religious figure included. (The trick there being finding one who isn't going to favor the conservative all the time.)

A representative from the "hard" sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry, or the like. Someone from the medical field would be good, as well.

As for my recommendation for debate? Get rid of the format altogether. Sit both candidates down at a table and have them go at it, face-to-face. It's the only way to do a "debate" that fits in to the current mud-slinging type of campaigning. Then we'd see who was really the most intelligent and knowledgable candidate. We'd also see who has the coolest head and the best personal leadership abilities.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )