October 9, 2008
Improving the debates
Last Thursday’s Presidential debate was widely panned for its ridiculous format. Seriously? Two-minute responses and one-minute followups? And this is supposed to transcend talking points?
The Lehrer debate felt much meatier to me. It clearly showcased two men who had very different (but both quite substantial) views on foreign policy, and allowed them to contrast those views at length. Still, any amount of time spent paying attention to the moderator in a Presidential debate is wasted time, and Lehrer had to do a fair amount of refereeing to keep the candidates in line.
CJR’s got some excellent ideas for shaking up the debate format. I’ve got one more:
What if we allotted to each of the candidates a block of time — say 40 minutes — and allow them to apportion it however they’d like? Engage a moderator merely to pause the debate and send the candidates in another direction if they get stuck on a particular topic, but mostly allow them to steer the debate where they’d like. Each candidate could be wired with a mic that detects when he’s speaking and winds down the clock, and both the candidates and the viewers can see how much time each one has left.
You could even take this a little further by employing a team of fact-checkers who work furiously during the debate to spot misstatements of fact. If a candidate is discovered to have fudged the truth, the misstatement is revealed during the course of the debate and the candidate is docked a minute. (This would be difficult to enforce and cause a lot of partisan sniping, so the plan might be better without, but I offer it as a possibility.)
What say you, Snarkmind?