Thursday, September 30, 2004

Note for 2008: Dump or Change Presidential Debates

I joked with my brother (comedian Marty Daniels) that my attitude toward presidential debates is akin to that of most people passing expressway car accidents: I don't want to look, but I can't help myself.

Frankly, I'm not a fan of the debates. Owing perhaps to the formats for these quadrennial slugfests, they generate more heat than light. Their point seems less for candidates to present their platforms than to inject, at just the right times, the obviously-scripted one line zinger.

In spite of their lack of substance, these one-liners seem to have given momentum to some campaigns while destroying others. Think about the debates and consider what you remember. It won't be the substantive policy discussions so much as the verbal razors-in-the-candy: "There you go again." "You're no Jack Kennedy."

Sometimes gestures have proved to be most significant. Remember George Bush the Elder looking at his watch or Al Gore impatiently sighing for the umpteenth time? (Note to candidates: Don't appear impatient.)

Young people may be surprised to learn that there were no presidential debates until the 1960 contest between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. They didn't become an institutionalized part of the presidential landscape until the 1976 race between incumbent Gerald Ford and challenger Jimmy Carter.

I would prefer going back to the practice of those pre-debate years. I wouldn't mourn the death of presidential debates.

But if that's not possible, then I'd like to see the debates formatted differently: Two or more candidates alone on a stage except for a moderator whose job wouldn't be to ask questions, but keep time. Candidate A would make an opening statement, followed by Candidate B. If there were more than two qualifying candidates, Candidates C through Z would follow suit.

After that, there would ensue a "no-interruptions-allowed" round robin of five minutes from each candidate on whatever topics they chose to address. (Certainly, in the give and take, they would choose to respond, challenge, and otherwise interact with their opponents.)

Macho violations of opponents' personal space---the absurd tactic employed by Al Gore in the town hall-style debate of 2000---would be disallowed. (Would there be less macho posturing if a woman were nominated for president? One can only hope.)

And of course, no Jerry Springer tactics would be allowed either. (In other words, no throwing of chairs. This means that Bobby Knight can never run for president.)

All of this may make too much sense, asking too much substance of the candidates and perhaps, providing less entertainment value to those of us in the TV viewing audience.

And so, once again this year, I'll be making my decision on who will be the next President of the United States based, in part, on an accident from which I wish that I could, but simply can't turn away.

1 comment:

Deborah White said...

Interesting blog, but I thought there was plenty of substance and useful contrast in last night's first presidential debate. I will keep reading your views. Thanks! ( probably won't agree with me.)