‘Debate’ format needs work

August 22, 2012


Dictionary.com defines a “debate” as: “A formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.”

That is not what will take place during three exchanges between President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney or the one vice-presidential exchange between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

The selection of liberal “moderators” for these sessions by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates is, as Joe Biden might say, a 20th-century model for the 20th century.

Has anyone come up with a statement of purpose for these sessions? It seems less about getting information useful to the public and more about showcasing TV anchors and reporters who mostly ask questions through the liberal prism of their own biases, hoping to produce “gaffes” by at least the Republican candidate.

“Diversity” is the stated reason for the selection of two female moderators — Candy Crowley of CNN, who said of Romney’s vice-presidential pick, that it “looks a little bit like some sort of ticket death wish.”

Question: What is the difference between a male liberal and a female liberal? Answer: There is none. That would also be true for any minority the commission might have selected as moderator, if that person were also a liberal. Debates should not be about gender or racial diversity; they should be about ideological diversity.

During the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich proposed a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates with no moderator, just the two candidates having a conversation about how they would lead the country. But because we live in a television age, which has conditioned us to brief sound bites, that kind of lengthy conversation might cause most eyes to glaze over.

Here are some better alternatives. 1) Let the country vote on moderators and any panel members like baseball fans do for the annual All-Star game. Since one of these men for the next four years will be spending our money, starting or ending wars, and regulating or de-regulating businesses we either did or did not build ourselves, the public has a vested interest in who wins the election.

2) Allow each candidate to pick one panelist to question the other candidate. President Obama might pick Rachel Maddow or someone else from liberal land to question Mitt Romney. Romney might select Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, or someone from Fox News to ask questions of President Obama. Any of these would generate interest and boost ratings.

3) Have the candidates question each other. This has been tried on occasion in various races for other offices, but never consistently in presidential debates.

4) Put a former president on the panel. These men have had the rare experience of being president and know the challenges and unexpected events that often arise during a presidency.

5) Put a “loser” on the panel. Let Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum ask questions. Losers in previous Democratic primaries might be selected, too. Hillary Clinton would be fun.

The tired “debate” format devised in 1960 for the televised Nixon-Kennedy meeting and made worse in the ‘70s needs serious updating. Everything else has advanced. So should these political face-offs.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Paul R Getto 5 years, 10 months ago

"The tired “debate” format devised in 1960 for the televised Nixon-Kennedy meeting and made worse in the ‘70s needs serious updating. Everything else has advanced. So should these political face-offs.". ==== Couldn't agree more. We need real debates but neither side really wants them.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

Cal actually makes some good suggestions-- too bad he had to spoil it with his silly "evil liberal media" lead in.

The current debate format is designed to limit the areas of discussion, and to limit participation to the Democratic and Republican nominees, preserving the two-party duopoly.

Phil Minkin 5 years, 10 months ago

In one of his rare almost readable columns, Cal Thomas has suggestions for the Presidential debates. I would like to suggest a modification of his idea combined with a popular Facebook question about having Jon Stewart moderate a debate. Have Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity debate with Anderson Cooper as moderator, but not air it live. Show it 48 hours later after Jon Stewart fact checks it and adds commentary.

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