Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 16, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MODERATING THE DEBATES....So I'm curious: how does everyone think presidential debates should be handled? I'm as tired as everyone of moderators trying to turn every question into a gotcha, but the fact that the pros are annoying doesn't automatically mean that the audience questions are any better. Let's face it: most of them don't even rise to the level of softballs. They're more like beachballs: "How will you get us out of Iraq?" "What's your plan for healthcare?" "How will you bring us together?"

Now, there's nothing wrong with a few beachballs. Giving every candidate a couple of minutes to simply explain their healthcare plan — or whatever — without interruption is fine. But then what? Do we really want several months of "debates" in which candidates do nothing but rattle off bits and pieces of their stump speeches endlessly?

I dunno. It's true that Wolf Blitzer was almost a parody last night. It was sort of astonishing to watch him get visibly perturbed every single time a candidate seemed about to make a substantive point, as if talking about their actual record or explaining some policy detail was cheating of some kind and had to be cut off. On the other hand, it's also true that the candidates, as candidates will, mostly seemed like they would have given their entire stump speech in response to every question if Blitzer hadn't cut them off. So what to do? Given the format of these things, is there really any way to make them more watchable and more meaningful?

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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As Atrios would say, this has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Posted by: David Bailey on November 16, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

yeah, i also doubt there is anything that could be done, but having them pound a beer before each question wouldn't hurt.

Posted by: Bill Hicks on November 16, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Add the fact that the stupid closing question to Sen. Clinton on "diamonds or pearls" was forced by CNN, the student wanted to ask a substantive question on Yucca Mountain (thinkprogress.org). That would have been too heady for the wrap up I guess.

Posted by: RollaMO on November 16, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Computer moderated debate. Each candidate is targeted for a certain amount of time, proportionally to the square root of their numbers in a major national poll. The computer then picks one candidate to get 30 seconds to ask a question, and one to get 3 minutes to answer.

Selection is randomish, but biased towards giving everyone their target amount of time. The next questioner/responder pair is made available to everyone in the room as soon as the current one starts. If you use less than your alloted time, the computer credits the difference towards its attempts to hit the targets. If you hit your alloted time, your mike is cut off automatically by the computer.

And if anyone suggests a lightning round, they're taken out back and shot.

Posted by: Imaginary on November 16, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, even after the reaction to your recent post on Russert, you apparently persist in your Broderian assumption that the problem is in the moderation of presidential debates in general and not Democratic debates. Republicans simply do not face the same type of questioning , even when they bravely appear in venues otther than Fox. Why do you continue to pretend otherwise?

Posted by: Marlowe on November 16, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

The YouTube debate was pretty substantive and, actuall, the "town Halls" where the audience asks the questions may be better as well. Sure they are "Beachballs" - no take that back, they are "Jump Balls" Ask "What about Iraq" and then, stand back and let the particiapnts bat that around. Unless you thin "Licenses for Illegals YES or NO!" is good questioning.

(well maybe on "Perry Mason!)

Posted by: richard locicero on November 16, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

A few suggestions :

1) Get rid of the audience. The embarrassing part about most debate answers is that the candidates are trying to get the audience to clap or laugh and tend to automatically switch into stump speech mode.

2) Get rid of the moderators. Since the most important reason to watch the debates is to draw contrasts between the candidates, they should be allowed to take turns asking each other questions. This would give us the added benefit of letting us see what questions are important to the candidates themselves.

3) Get rid of the podiums. Make the candidates sit down and talk to each other like rational human beings. Hearing them engage in a conversation about important issues would be a lot more enlightening than having them talk *at* each other.

4) Get rid of the time limit. I'm tired of hearing people complain about debates running too long. These people are auditioning to be the leader of the free world, so maybe listening to them talk for more than 10 minutes each isn't too much to ask. Since it's hard to sell advertising space for a 3-4 hour debate, run the opening rounds on TV and stream the rest online.

Posted by: greg on November 16, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

One way would be to ask questions of the candidates that required them to answer genuine, fundamental objections to policies they espouse, rather than respond to trivial "gotcha" points.

For example, a Democrat might be asked to answer if they believe that SS gets better returns than a private investment, and, if not, why the government should require that people should pay into it.

And they might ask a Republican under what conditions it makes sense to attack a country pre-emptively, and under what conditions it is better to refuse to do so. What about the cases of Iraq, Iran, and N Korea?

The point would be to get the candidates to address the very kinds of objections, expressed as sharply as possible, that really make the most difference to the justification of the underlying policies. Followup questions should be carefully designed so that they can't simply respond with cheap, deflecting blather.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 16, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps these TV debates have become meaningless as some have already noted. Couldn't they all just chase each other around a room armed with those foam baseball bats? It would be better television and be just as informative.

Posted by: slanted tom on November 16, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

mymymy. cnn plants a question to hillary -- 'diamonds or pearls'. and one that is condescending to boot.

Posted by: linda on November 16, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Replace "reporting" journalists with opinion journalists, bloggers even. The non-opinion journalists couldn't care less about elucidating any substantive issues. They just want to create news ... i.e. generate dramatic sound bites. I think a debate moderated by a panel consisting of Krugman, Brooks, Dionne, etc. would be infinitely more interesting.

Posted by: ralphnf on November 16, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Each candidate could submit 3 questions to a moderators, who would be selected by lottery from the White House press pool, and the moderators would select one question from each candidate for debate. The debate could follow a format of answer and response as agreed by the candidates.

Something needs to be done to prevent the moderators from selecting the"primary" candidates by directing the questions.

Posted by: TJM on November 16, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm kind of partial to the Yglesias suggestion a few weeks ago that moderators be replaced by a panel of experts who pose intelligent questions to the candidates about their position on a single issue like education, economics, foreign policy, etc. This means that each debate is issue specific but that these issues are well known by those posing the questions who could in turn point out the various flaws or ask better follow-up questions.

Posted by: MNDante on November 16, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - I think you properly identified that the format is the problem. Instead of celebrity jounalists (is that a conflict of interest?) baiting the candidates to pick a fight like Wolfe was doing all last night - each candidate might be given a significant period of time to present their position on a selected variety of issues. This week's debate might cover healthcare, next week's might cover foriegn policy, etc.. If the candidate chooses to use his/her time to do nothing but gripe about another candidates position, consistancy or body oder then hopefully the public will judge them accordingly but the candidate will also miss their opportunity to state their case because when the time is up the moderator (or an anonymous technician) would simply shut off the sound system.

For too long, the media (television specifically) has let the voters off the hook by telling them how to vote. It's time we started making people read, listen and learn about the candidates rather than making our mind up based on who delivered the most clever sound bite.

Posted by: lamonte on November 16, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Ralph. The idea of objective questioners is silly; its not a job interview, its not an oral exam, its a competitive debate.

Personally I would prefer each candidate be asked questions by other candidates. But why not have an openly biased panel, of say Krugman or even a Republican?

Less Gotcha questions. More ritual combat.

Posted by: jimmy on November 16, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Diamonds or pearls?" You have got to be fucking kidding.

Posted by: anonymous on November 16, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Sure there is. Remove the corporate lackey posing as a moderator and have Nader, Chomsky, or even Eddie Vedder as the moderator. The problem is in the reporting. The candidates get away with these cardboard cutout statements, because, in the long run, the fourth estate lets them. Blitzer may become visually "perturbed" but that is as far as it will go. In essence, the moderator and the Candidate are working for the same corporate boss.

Posted by: Eason on November 16, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Best debate evah was back during the primaries, I think just before NY, in 91, on the Phil Donahue Show. Donahue had been agitating for many years for non-moderated debates, and finally Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown took him up on it. I thought it was riveting.

There were no rules, no moderator, no audience, no questions, just Clinton and Brown sitting at a small round table. Now what?

Jerry Brown decided the way to go was to try to use up as much of the hour as possible with the sound of his own voice. What did BC do? Although Jerry didn't have a clue that's what was happening, Clinton just took control. He asked Jerry friendly and thoughtful policy questions. He listened to him yada, yada, yada until he ran down, then said, "Well, here's what I think about that," spoke concisely and to the point for three or four minutes, then asked Jerry another question.

It was an absolutely revelatory lesson in leadership and command.

That wouldn't work with a big mob like we have now, though, so what I'd like to see instead is well-focused issues debates (surely we could use an entire debate on nothing but health care) with two or three expert types asking the questions, and a professional journalist moderator to keep things from bogging down. Wouldn't be perfect, but it'd be a darn sight better than Social Security crisis and diamonds or pearls questions.

Posted by: gyrfalcon on November 16, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like they solicit the citizen questions in advance (and then insist that they be vacuous), so why not use them as a starting point and then have actual experts on the subject do some follow-ups.

I mean, I'd love to hear Rudy Guiliani tell some citizen how tax cuts pay for themselves and have to face a follow-up from an economist.

Posted by: David in NY on November 16, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

The suggestion to have candidates ask other candidates questions is a very good one. Only problem is everyone up there would want to have HRC answer their questions. There's probably some procedural way around that, however.

Posted by: Callimaco on November 16, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

What debates? These events are debates in name only. There is no question to be debated, no substantive arguments offered, and - unless a candidate melts down on stage - no meaningful consequences. How many people will remember this "debate" next November?

Posted by: Mike on November 16, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Do a round robin of head-to-head debates (would have to limit it to the top 3 or 4 candidates to make it feasible) where they actually debate -- you know, respond to each other's arguments.

Posted by: Glenn on November 16, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I would let them have at it with a moderator only acting to keep order and ensure everyone gets a say on whatever issue is on at the moment. There is no need for questions from the public, or experts or anyone else. Topic: health care. Mrs. Clinton, you start. Then let the free for all begin with the moderator just keeping some semblance of order. Lincoln and Douglas seemed well capable of very intense and detailed debates without anyone feeding them stupid questions. I also like the idea of the candidates addressing questions to each other.

Posted by: Jammer on November 16, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why even have "debates" when debates are for the purpose of presenting opposing views on a single subject by either two people or two parties?

Why not have a series of one-our or half-hour one-on-one interviews on general topics, such as foreign policy.

As for the presidential "debates", why not let them be governed by standard debate rules rather than the recent formats? Let the candidates ask the questions as well as answer them. There would be as much to learn by a candidate's question as their answer.

Posted by: Catfish on November 16, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK


Let people figure out their own strategy. If everyone wants to ask Hilary a question, that is fine. If two candidates, say Dodd and Biden, decide they need time to talk, they can ask each other soft balls.

Posted by: jimmy on November 16, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

How about everyone who attends the debate gets to type in, say, to 2 questions, from a keypad attatched to their chair. The questions then go to a big screen in front of everyone, and people vote on the questions. The ones with the most votes get asked.

It would require a time-commitment from attendees, and I'm not sure how well it would work out, but I'd like to see it done, just once.

Posted by: Michael R on November 16, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

I can think of a about a hundred better ways to expose potential Presidential nominees to the electorate. But I don't think that will ever happen. These debates are tolerated for the very reason that they are hollow and meaningless.

Someone up-thread made the point with the example of an actual economist being on-hand to follow-up when Rudy or Mitt-y or whoever-y claims that tax cuts are self-financing. It's so obvious that the candidates carefully avoid any actual risk BECAUSE it would be so easy to devise meaningful alternatives.

So by all means let's have 2.5 minutes per candidate rather than 1.75. Or three Tim Russet's rather than 2. Or 175 people in the audience rather than 120. All of this makes no difference at all.

Posted by: Jim Pharo on November 16, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I was considering debates with openly partisan expert moderators on specific topics. So someone like Juan Cole moderates a republican debate on Middle Eastern foreign policy issues and Paul Krugman on economic issues. On the flip side, similar partisan experts on the republican side would moderate democratic debates. This should assure substantive questions and followups that really cover policy in depth. One problem is I can't think of any intellectually honest republican partisans. They've all become disenchanted with the direction of the party. We'd be left with people Bill Kristol as the republican equivalent of Juan Cole. Unfortunately he has no expertise except in warmongering and political hackery.

Posted by: kahner on November 16, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Skip the moderator questions. Tell the moderator to pick some topics (Iraq, Health care, white house decor, Hill's diamonds, whatever) and let the candidates go after each other. You get that every now and then, like Hill and Obama on healthcare last night, but I want Lincoln-Douglas.

Posted by: do on November 16, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Reconceive the moderator's role to enforce the rules of the debate, and not much more than that. If you have local op-ed writers or audience members on hand to ask questions, let them ask them. The moderator's job is not to steer the discourse to make it "more interesting" or "less waffly." The moderator is only really there to make sure that when a candidate is given 60 seconds to speak, he or she does not speak for 120 seconds.

Another thing: Scrap the concept of rebuttals. If Hillary wants to slam Obama, that doesn't mean that Obama gets another 30 seconds to defend himself. In a two-person debate, as happens every fourth October and sometimes at the end of the primary season, it makes more sense to build in rebuttals.

Posted by: Martin on November 16, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm doubt there's any particular debate format that will somehow goad candidates into being more candid. If a candidate wants to dodge a question, a candidate is going to dodge a question, and I don't believe the ideal President is the person who dodges the most artfully. If candidates want to have more meaningful debates, they can give more meaningful answers, and if the public wants them, they can support more open and forthright candidates.

I would say it's probably a mistake to let anyone from the CNN or MSNBC crew moderate a debate, and certainly a mistake for anyone from FOX. Cable news and Sunday round tables are the lowest form of political discourse in our country, and network anchors seem to be rapidly approaching their ranks, so I can't see why anyone would choose a moderator from that pool, other than that the people who televise it are going to want their pseudo-celebrities up there.

I'm not sure what it is people expect from these things (Abraham Lincoln, I guess.) I always found it funny when West Wing would hold up the idea of debates to some romantic ideal, two candidates!!! talking!!! about the issues!!! The most absurd part was that what was shown of the Bartlett debate and the live debate episode showed them to be just as banal and unenlightening as debates really are. And that was with talented actors, a prepared script, and a show built on the concept that politicians can be honest. All that, and we still just got a few platitudes.

For my money, all I really want is the chance to see the candidates under some stress, having to think on their feet a little. It doesn't prove much, but at least it shows whether they are raving idiots. (Though we still elect those anyway.)

Substantive questions are always better than idiot ones, but if candidates get asked more detailed policy questions, they're just going to prep better on those types of questions. The only insight into the candidates' decision making processes we will see come to the extent that they are willing to show them. And if there was some winning aspect in the details of their policy preferences, I'm sure campaigns would be hawking those outside of debates.

Posted by: Royko on November 16, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

David in NY: I'd love to hear Rudy Guiliani tell some citizen how tax cuts pay for themselves and have to face a follow-up from an economist.

You and me both.

I also like Ralph's panel of experts idea... definitely include Krugman... experts capable enough to confront the candidates when they spew bullshit.

I'm sick of the press orchestrating the debates.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on November 16, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

1. Get rid of the big hall/auditorium/stadium venues and the big production stage quality. Have the candidates sit at a big table like on the Charlie Rose show and face each other. Look each other in the eye. And get close up on the face.

2. Get someone brainy and who is also really good at asking probing and pertinent questions, like Teri Gross.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 16, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

The problem seems to be that too many people equate show business proficiency with debate moderator ability. The people on TV like Blitzer and Russert are nothin more than show business folk. Would we ask Letterman or Leno to moderate a debate. (Actually the day is probably not too far off.) That is not the skill we need. How about creating a truly non-partisan debate organization that would schedule debates during the primary and general election. They could also go out into America where there are educators and scholars who could run a perfectly good debate. They could do it because they do it on a regular basis in their classrooms and other venues.

Select those people to run the debate but make it a condition of their employment that they will not go on any show to discuss their work.

Posted by: Stuart Shiffman on November 16, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Diamonds or pearls?" You have got to be fucking kidding.

Hey, they could ask the men, "Viagra or Cialis?"

Posted by: frankly0 on November 16, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, meant Terry Gross as moderator.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 16, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Greg is right and Gyrf's recollection proves it. And why couldn't you do it with a bunch of candidates?

A BOFSAAT (bunch of folks sitting around a table) format is actually something like the job, after all.

It's not like Cabinet meetings don't involve extremely well-informed people with constituencies and egos and hidden agendas who want to dominate the discussion, after all.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 16, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK
So I'm curious: how does everyone think presidential debates should be handled? I'm as tired as everyone of moderators trying to turn every question into a gotcha, but the fact that the pros are annoying doesn't automatically mean that the audience questions are any better. Let's face it: most of them don't even rise to the level of softballs.

The "audience" questions are directly controlled by the by the "pros", as well, as was noted by a poster in your previous debate thread.

Given the number and frequency of the debates—as well as the number of contenders—it would be better to have a neutral timekeeper instead of an active, notionally neutral, media moderator. Then have half one candidate from the party whose candidates are debating act as questioner for half of each debate.

Maybe have a couple crossover debates on each side, where all the candidates from one major party get a few minutes each to question those from the other party.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 16, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

CNN admitted this morning (HNL time) that they planted the "Diamonds or pearls" question, having chose it and then getting that girl to ask it of Hillary.

Maybe next time, someone at CNN can ask her if that's her natural hair color, and just to balance it out, inquire of Bill Richardson his preferred aftershave and cologne.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 16, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I mostly agree with Greg (1:31), however;

1) I would focus the debate on one subject, i.e. Iraq. This way for one hour we have an impassioned back and forth on a subject without sound bites and with explanations of positions. We could follow up with The Economy, Civil Rights, Race, etc.

2) I would keep the moderator, not a talking head but two or three experts, one from the left and one from the right and a centrist. The moderators aren't there to initially ask any questions they would be there to immediately fact check the candidates on their responses and then hopefully ask intelligent follow up questions.

Posted by: F on November 16, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps if they allowed the Silly Party, Very Silly Party, and National Bocialist candidates to participate, it would be more entertaining.

Posted by: Speed on November 16, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The whole thing seemed scripted.Joe Biden could take over when Leno quits.He kinda looks like Johnny Carson.

Posted by: paper tiger on November 16, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

the best debate I ever watched was the 1992 Dem primaries where Clinton ditched, but the other half-dozen Dem hopefulls showed up. I remember that, to a man, they demonstrated an amazing depth and breadth of knowledge across a myriad of policy issues.

But the real problem with the current debates can be easily gleaned from a look at today's AP reporting on the subject. The only things mentioned in the whole article are the attacks, the zingers and the poll standings. Obviously the candidates (and the moderators) understand that any substantial discussion of issues will be ignored and so they adjust their debate style to suit.

The zen question of the day is: If a candidate says something, but the media doesn't report it, did the candidate say anything?

Posted by: mcdruid on November 16, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't those MSM goofballs ask the candidates about Peak Oil? Or whether Biofuels are driving up food prices? Or about the giant Sea of Plastic Waste forming in the Pacific? Or whether the government's economic data is rigged? Or...

But, no, let's talk about which candidate has the best-looking hair.

Posted by: Joe Strummer's Ghost on November 16, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

would it be too much to ask to schedule one-on-one debates between individual republicans and democrats? with little or no moderation, just let them go at it for 30 minutes and have someone there to spritz 'em with cold water if they get too ridiculous.

Posted by: jim on November 16, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Debates are not question and answer sessions from journalists or voters. Debates might have a moderator to time responses or keep the topic from being forgotten, but not to ask the questions.

These things the candidates and the news channels put on are not debates but chances for GE, Disney and Viacom to sell advertising while fooling people into thinking we live in a representative democracy.

Posted by: Brojo on November 16, 2007 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

So I'm curious: how does everyone think presidential debates should be handled?
Simple. Hold the debates at private and public universities instead. Have all the questions posed by university debating team members. Then have them vetted by a committee of their professors. Forget the news media altogether. Well, they could have cameras and mics there with the needed technicians.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 16, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

1) no audience
2) sit the candidates down, preferably around a table
3) have 2 or 3 questioners, who are well-versed in the debate subjects (health care policy types for health care, etc)
4) have a moderator who has a mental age over 12 (the hardest part...someone like Margaret Warner)

Posted by: bruce on November 16, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Greg @ 1:31 is on the right track. Get rid of the pundits and questions, whose answers always just evolve into regurgitating sound bites from stump speeches. Instead, declare a general "task" they collectively must "solve" and let the candidates brainstorm a solution. It will be apparent really quickly who the real leaders are and who has the best ideas.

Posted by: AJ on November 16, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Another crappy debate moderator: Wolf Blitzer.
Moderators think debates are an opportunity to put their ego on display and, in the case of Russert / Williams, score partisan points.

Posted by: Mike on November 16, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to see a return to traditional "Lincoln-Douglas" style debating. I think it would be beneficial to have a clear winner in the debates. Imagine being able to watch one of these circuses from your couch and "flow" the debate on a notepad.

Also, if candidates were forced to affirm or negate a clearly worded resolution we would have less recitation of their stump speeches and more logical arguments.

Posted by: Kevin on November 16, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

What ever happened to the sponsorship by the League of Women Voters? They didn't do gotchas.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on November 16, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

You want a real debate with real issues and answers? LetsPick 3 or 4 people at random that are members of the party(dem or repub)thats holding the debate and let them ask questions of the candidates and let them moderate the debate. We might just get some straight answers that were all looking for with alot less nonsense from the corporate whore moderaters.

Posted by: Gandalf on November 16, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

My dream candidate would answer the "Diamonds or Pearls?" question by pointing out that either one reaches the necks/fingers/ears of affluent Westerners via a system that exploits the dangerous labor of mostly non-white people who are paid obscenely little money while everyone else in the chain makes obscene profits so we can look good to each other.

This is why I don't bother running for office. I'm a fucking nutball.

Posted by: thersites on November 16, 2007 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

The League of Women Voters debates weren't enough like WWF cage matches. What could be more boring than a serious discussion among adults?

Posted by: thersites on November 16, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK
would it be too much to ask to schedule one-on-one debates between individual republicans and democrats?

For a nine candidate field, it would take 36 debates to give each candidate a 1-on-1 with each other candidate.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 16, 2007 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'd like to see them put their positions down on websites, and then I'd go to http://www.connect2elect.com/ and fill out a form and let the computer decide my vote.

My candidates in order are:

John Cox
Mike Gravel
Duncan Hunter

I never heard of John Cox, so listening to debates wouldn't have guided me in the right direction.

Debates are best for glib speakers who are fast on their feet. A more thoughtful person who consults experts and advisers before shooting from the hip might make a better president.

Posted by: Luther on November 16, 2007 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

My fellow Americans don't listen to these enervating, so-called debates. The leading candidates speech/talk is vapid, chewing gum strength blather. Never do they say anything. Their minds are empty as the day they were born--all a natural result of being on the campaign trail. I don't know what any of them really stands for. That's the point isn't it?, though, they stand for nothing,ever eager to sniff the wind and see which way it's going. The moderators, whether Russet or Blitzer are total non-entities--they couldn't hold their own against Mr. Bill or even Mr. Ed, the talking horse.

We are reduced in this country to a clown show--a mighty battle between Neanderthal rabbit-eating surrender- monkeys and oleaginous buffoons of the first order.

Comes next November. vote for somebody--bound to be an improvement over the empty minded cowboy now running the country.

Better yet, hop a plane, train or car back to whatever country your forebears came from. Native Americans, stay put, of course, hopefully enough of the yahoos will leave the country and you will get back what you lost over the years.

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on November 16, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that Wolf Blitzer was almost a parody last night.

—Kevin Drum

Obama had his chance to put that piece of shit in his place at the start. He should have told him to take his assumptions and shove him up his ass. And when the guy was harrassing him from the audience, he should have said, "Come down here you chickenshit bastard." Rudy would have run down the aisle and beat the shit out of the guy -- with McCain holding him.

Dems. Don't. Get. It.

Don't go halfway when you're attacking. Take no prisoners. If you're going to get criticized for attacking, get criticized for totally destroying your opponent.

I hate to admit it but HRC deserves credit for having the biggest balls on the stage -- and she really doesn't have any -- I think.

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 16, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

"These things the candidates and the news channels put on are not debates but chances for GE, Disney and Viacom to sell advertising while fooling people into thinking we live in a representative democracy."

Which raises the question of whether a debate would get on TV nowadays if it didn't go down as some network wanted.

Posted by: Boronx on November 16, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Give 'em all broadswords.

Posted by: charles parr on November 16, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, they could ask the men, "Viagra or Cialis?"

A better analogy would be asking Barack Obama if he planned to play gospel or Motown at state dinners. The "diamonds or pearls" question was aimed at singling out the sole female candidate, highlighting for those who missed it that One of These Things is Not Like the Others, and not-so-subtly suggesting that she is (or should be) more interested in beads and baubles than in serious policy. WTF?

And yes, I know a teenage girl came up with the question before CNN told her to ask it. We all know teenagers can be dumb. Too bad CNN has to be even dumber.

Posted by: shortstop on November 16, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Given the format of these things, is there really any way to make them more watchable and more meaningful?

—Kevin Drum

Yeah, have the dem candidates freakin' prepare for them.

When you KNOW a question is coming on licences for illegals, because last time you said you were for it, and you take 190+ words to answer a yes/no question, HELLO!, the asshole who asked the question is not to blame.

YOU ARE TO BLAME. That shouldn't be a trick question for a freakin' Harvard constitutional lawyer.

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 16, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Find which candidate agrees most with your political priorities. [Note: no questions on jewelry]

Posted by: Mike on November 16, 2007 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Two candidates, each in a soundproof room with a chair, camera, microphone, monitor, and button. The button turns off your clock and mike and turns on the other person's (like a chess clock). Each starts with half the allotted time on their clock. Both cameras always on, split-screen on the monitors and broadcast. Maybe a suggested topic.

An hour of prime time, every other day. Participants are chosen by random selection, but the random choice is weighted by the candidate's poll results (i.e. a candidate with 20% would be twice as likely to be chosen as one with 10%). Continue until a few days before the general election. Ignore party affiliation.

Posted by: Bob Munck on November 16, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Let them debate each other, without a "moderator." Each candidate is given the opportunity to question every other candidate, with a certain number of folloup questions. The problem of equal time is addressed, you get to find out something about the questioner, by virtue of the kind questions they ask, the nature and quality of their followups, and so on, as well as judge the person answering the questions.

Really, when you look at it, the dynamics of the "debate" format are wrong, anyway. Not one of the "moderators," who is placed in a position of authority, is ever qualified to grill the candidates on any subject at all. Is Tim Russert qualified to probe, say, Joe Biden on foreign policy? Is Wolf Blitzer qualified to quiz, say, Mitt Romney on successful leadership? Could any of them talk about the political intricacies of healthcare with Hillary as an equal? Obviously not. The reality is, there is a huge gulf between the candidates, usually people with stunning records of academic and other achievement and, generally speaking, at least some passion for policy issues, on the one hand, and the journalists who serve as moderators in these things on the other. The journalists are people who probably didn't finish at the head of too many classes, and are only in it for the paycheck, anyway. So instead of having the kind of debate where that dynamic would be exposed, we have what we have. Get rid of the worthless moderators, let the candidates go at it with a firm set of rules in place, and you would actually see real, substantive debates. Of course, the media would never go for that, as their opportunity to preen would be taken away, and that's the only value they see in these things.

Another option would be to have the debates focus on one policy area, with actual subject matter experts as the moderators. This answer is so obvious that I can't understand why it isn't the way things are done already, except again, it takes away the opportunity for the journalists to strut and preen.

Posted by: Martin Gale on November 16, 2007 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: So what to do? Given the format of these things, is there really any way to make them more watchable and more meaningful?

First, don't call the format a given. Here's how I'd like to see a two-person debate set up: Don't have a moderator at all, just a time-keeper. Sit them across a table from each other, with whatever papers and notes they want.

Pick a major topic, such as foreign affairs. Give each nominee 45 minutes for the evening, with a chess timer. Flip a coin. Winner talks as long as he or she wants and hits the button when done. Back and forth, they talk until they want to stop, saying anything they want on the general topic, asking questions of the other nominee or reacting to something the other said, and then hit the button when they're done. When one candidate reaches 45 minutes, the other candidate has the floor until he/she, too, reaches 45 minutes.

To make this work with 8 candidates, it would have to be more like 10 minutes.

Posted by: anandine on November 16, 2007 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

anandine and I seem to be pretty much in agreement; I'm just more of a techie. In my defense, putting them in separate rooms means they can be in different cities, so their campaign traveling doesn't get as badly messed up. Also, they can't shout into the other person's mike. No 8-way debates, though; too confusing. One-on-one. If there are a great many candidates, have a debate every night.

Posted by: Bob Munck on November 16, 2007 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Rula's right. Ever since the League of Women Voters stopped sponsoring the debates in 1988 -- which, incidentally, was the year when Mike Dukakis got hit with the "What if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered? Would you support the death penalty then?!" gotcha question -- the debates have gone downhill.

Posted by: Isaac on November 16, 2007 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Given the format of these things, is there really any way to make them more watchable and more meaningful?

—Kevin Drum


Posted by: Econobuzz on November 16, 2007 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

The candidates should be at a round table facing each other. Each candidate is alloted a certain amount of time to expand upon a previously chosen general topic, like the solution to Iraq or health care. Then each other candidate gives a rebuttal and questions to the candidate on the hot seat, for an alloted amount of time. Each candidate receives the same amount of time in the hot seat and the order is randomly chosen. It might take a few hours and be too boring. The length of time given would have to be shortened up a bit and a strict moderator installed to prevent the usual time overages these people take. The town hall style of the debates with the smug modern day Ellsworth Toohey's do not offer much substance.

Posted by: Brojo on November 16, 2007 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'd give you a shot at it, Kevin. You'd certainly be better than the cable guys.

Other than that, the moderators should be Dems. This is the Dem primary, Repugs should fuck off. This is for Dems to make up their minds, not an opportunity to work up GOP talking points for the general election.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on November 16, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

"moderators should be Dems"

You mean not like Campbell Brown, whose husband was an advisor to Paul Bremer in Baghdad and to Mitt Romney for his presidential run?

Campbell did not score well against Senator Clinton, did she now? Thought she had a gotcha about the "boys ganging up" - Made the mistake of going back the second time only to be trounced.

Posted by: bert on November 16, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Haven't read the whole thread, so I don't know if this has been suggested already...

1) Have Steven Colbert & John Stewart moderate the debates (they are the only two journalists left willing to put a candidate's feet to the fire)

2) Let the candidates question each other...

Posted by: mfw13 on November 16, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

1) no journalist of any sort. They want two things--access and audience, neither of which lends itself to asking probing, uncomfortable questions
2) 2 1/2 hour debates on a single topic
3) panel of three citizen questioners--one dem, one repub, one indep. they don't care about pissing off the politicians--they don't have a show they need them to come back to. And they don't need to be experts. They need to be decently informed and live in the real world so they ask questions real people would ask as they would ask them.
4) independent moderator simply to keep track of ensuring roughly equal amounts of time
5) no time limit on questions, move on when the panel is satisfied or thinks topic is getting repetitive. No rules on candidates addressing each other
6) And in this day and age, there's no reason a network can't make this a weekly news interview show with three citizens grilling politicians from studios via computer linkup. Not Meet the Press but Face the People.

Posted by: BC on November 17, 2007 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

How about just get rid of the debates? Seems to me they just provide a platform for the sponsors to score points.

Posted by: bob in fla on November 17, 2007 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

I like the idea suggested above of targeted debates and of including experts. For experts I would include figures such as Thom Hartman (Air America), Bernie Ward (KGO) and John Rothman (KGO). I would happily include any right wing intellectuals but I'm not familiar with one.

For example, there could be a debate about the economy, one about energy policy and the environment, etc.

The idea would be to have an extended conversation with these people in order to elucidate their positions, not to box them into corners to generate a gotcha moment. It should be enough to pin people down and see where they really stand. For some such as Dennis Kucinich this would be easy. For others like Hillary it would be more difficult.

Posted by: JohnK on November 17, 2007 at 5:17 AM | PERMALINK

Lots of great ideas in the comments. The panel of experts referenced by MNDante might work if the panel members could shed their own biases for the purpose of the questioning.

Rula Lenska (I love that name - from the unknown "famous" actress hawking shampoo in the 70's) made an excellent suggestion re the LVW.

Personally, I'd love to see Amy Goodman pose the questions. She's about the only real journalist I can think of.

Posted by: KathyP on November 17, 2007 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

Have academic experts in the debate; historian, economist, sociologist, political scientist, and natural scientist ask some of there own questions and also filter and select questions from the audience.

I never watch any talking-head moderated debates anymore because the corporate military industrial media complex is so corrupt that I can't control my gag reflex.

Posted by: Brian L on November 17, 2007 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a thought. STOP CALLING THEM DEBATES. They're actually joint press conferences. In an actuall debate, the participants talk to and about each other, and there are no grandstanding celebrity news readers intruding with trivia.

The reason these things are all personality and no substance is because the news readers are uninformed. They ask personality questions because they have no idea what the real issues are.

Posted by: Slideguy on November 17, 2007 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I can't help but wonder, has anyone ever chosen pearls?

Posted by: Cyn2 on November 17, 2007 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Simple: just have fewer of them. The political season is way too long, like putting out the Christmas junk after Valentine's Day.

Posted by: Jalmari on November 17, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK



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