Posts Tagged ‘presidential debates’

How to Improve the Debates

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

The presidential debates are long, boring, often off the topic, tedious, and mostly inconsequential – though Mitt Romney’s return from the dead after the first confrontation this year is nothing short of miraculous.

Clearly, we need a new system. Here are some modest proposals.

–The Pants-on-Fire format. Each candidate would be connected to a lie detector. The graphs, needles and other indicators of prevarication would be televised and appear beneath the candidates in their t-shirts. Off stage, a crew of non-partisan fact checkers with high-speed computers would check the candidates’ statements and responses. If the fact checkers need a little extra time, they would get it, and viewers would listen to the Ode to Joy while waiting. When it is determined that a candidate uttered a whopper – such as Romney’s saying there are 23 million people out of work when, bad enough, the official figure is 12.5 million – he would get a whipped cream pie in his face and a Bronx cheer.

–The Shut-Up-Already format. In this, the moderator (more on this role later) would have the authority to switch off a candidate’s microphone when it becomes clear that the would-be president is repeating himself. Redundancy would breed more than contempt; it would result in an otherwise articulate man yammering away in complete silence and looking pretty foolish. One microphone cutoff is the limit; if he bores the nation a second time, a man dressed as Bert Lahr appears and yanks him off the stage with a long wooden cane.

–The Stay-on-Message format. Ever notice how often the moderator asks a question and a candidate answers a different question? Example: The moderator asks, “What is your candid assessment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?” and a candidate, not wishing to get pinned down on that monster of a question, responds, “Well, Jim, I’d just like to say that when I’m in the Oval Office I will continue the tradition of pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey. The Easter Egg Hunt would be safe as well.” When a candidate begins answering a question that hasn’t been asked the moderator would get silence by switching off his audio switch.

–The Trivialize-the-Process-at-Your-Peril format. A siren would blare and red lights would flash if any candidate’s whose first words in the debate amounted to a personal trifle to his wife such as: “And so I just want to wish, Sweetie, you happy anniversary and let you know that a year from now we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.” No, sir. Not with the nation in recession, at war, worried about health care, concerned about jobs, and angry about the complete inability of the president and Congress to speak the same language.

–The Face Code format. Candidates must give a damn about what they’re doing as they stand there behind the lectern and before the nation. Not only that; they have to look like they give a damn. If they appear bored to tears, they’re off the air. If they look like they you can’t be bothered, they’re off the air. Example A: George H.W. Bush checking his wristwatch as Bill Clinton spoke in a 1992 debate. Example B: Barack Obama doing a great imitation of a bored professor about to nod off in mid-sentence in the lecture hall. You want to be president? Show passion, even when you’re not addressing a friendly crowd.

–The moderator must be taller than the candidates. He must be tougher. He must take no abuse. And he must make use of his audio switch so that when a candidate talks over him he can get immediate silence and restore order on matters of time allotments and staying on subject. Any candidate who abuses or otherwise disrespects the moderator would have to sit in the corner for the rest of the debate and wear a dunce cap with the word “RUDE” in big yellow letters.

–The Or-Else-Settle-it-Out-Back format. No moderator. No audience. Just two seated candidates facing each other and talking about their programs and what’s wrong with the other’s plans. This would make the debates more civil because it’s not easy to suggest that your opponent is an ignorant ass when you’re alone in the room with him and he’s just a few feet away.

In this format, the candidates would agree – on camera, before the nation – to abide by time rules. They would also take a cue from feminist consciousness raising: No interrupting. When one candidate says something that’s wrong or a lie, his opponent jots it down and rebuts on his own time.

I think that in this arrangement, the candidates would be better behaved and stick closer to the truth. Then again, probably not.