Debating Debate

What's wrong with the old-fashioned way?

As the last Republican pre-primary debate recedes into history, we can examine the record of these affairs over the course of the past year, and a definite trend becomes apparent.  While the series began with high hopes, most notably reflected in Newt Gingrich's call for a higher quality level of debate, each new session appeared to dig new depths.

From the notorious animated snowman that interrogated Democrats, to a veritable horde of Democratic ringers standing in as "undecided Republican voters" regaling the Republicans with a litany of leftist talking points, and through the increasingly lousy performances put on by the debate moderators, it's apparent that this year's events will, shall we say, not exactly be engraved next to Lincoln-Douglas.

In the most recent episode, the moderator asked what has to be the most juvenile and useless question of the year - and the competition for that ranking has been fierce.  What sort of debate has the moderator asking the candidates to raise their hands if they believe "global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity"?

About the only good thing that can be said about this one is that it gave Fred Thompson the opportunity to rightly tell her where she could put that question.  "No.  You know - you want a show of hands.  I'm not giving it to you."  Can we have a little dignity please?

Aside from the obvious political motivation of the question, in a clear attempt to continue to define the global warming debate as over when it's anything but, exactly what useful information was supposed to be extracted from this exercise?  Let's suppose the same question was asked at the Democratic debate.  All hands shoot skyward.  Okay.... that was fun.

But wouldn't it be interesting to hear, let's see, how the various candidates intended to address the issue, if at all?  What's next?  "Please state your answer in the form of a question," no doubt as some sort of Jeopardy-style game-show infusion attempts to keep more voters tuned.

The purpose of the moderator is to control the debate, not to be the debate.  If debates have time limits, the moderator should announce them and enforce them.  But for the moderator to be a political individual with his own agenda, and thereby to direct the debate through his choice of questions, destroys the whole point.  It is not the moderator that is running for office!

Perhaps, that observation points us in the direction of a solution.  It's all well and good in principle for the questions to be asked by ordinary voters; but when the questioning voters in the audience have been packed with supporters for one or the other candidates, they might as well all be political hacks.

Having voters nationwide submit questions is no better; given that CNN's producers were able to select the 33 questions asked from 5,000 submitted, that amounts to the same thing as having CNN just make the questions up themselves.  Out of 5,000 possibilities, surely virtually anything they could hope to find will be in there somewhere.

It's time to take the media, long since proven to have a leftist bias, entirely out of the control of the debate content.  And, since it appears to be impossible to keep phonies out of these nationally-televised, pre-announced debates, unfortunately we cannot turn to them for the questions either.  Let us, instead, turn to the candidates themselves.

It's simple enough: Take the suggested number of questions; divide by the number of candidates that will be debating; and then, let them put forward the questions they would like to see asked.

Not of them alone, of course; each question would be asked in turn of each of the debaters. This would avoid the problem of self-serving questions; while the question "In how many ways did Governor X save his state from ruin and disaster?" might give Governor X the chance for puffery and self-satisfaction, it would give the other debaters equal opportunity for ridicule and attack.

And surely, at least some of the questions will be open-ended - aimed to allow the proposer to excel in an area of strength, perhaps, but equally valid nonetheless.  For Tom Tancredo to put forward the question, "How do you plan to solve the problem of illegal immigration" may benefit himself, but it is no less a legitimate issue that deserves to be addressed by all.

Similarly with McCain and torture, Giuliani and 9-11, Romney and competent governance, and on down the line.  Even the odd ducks serve a purpose: any question that Ron Paul would propose, would surely generate useful and informative responses from the others.

Don't you think it would be more useful for Hillary to be forced to answer Obama's questions, than to allow her to keep batting at softballs tossed by a sycophantic press corp?  If Hillary has derogatory information on Obama, in turn, what better way to make use of it, than to make him confront it in a straightforward question.  "Did you ever use, buy, or sell illegal drugs, and what punishments do you consider to be appropriate for those that do?"  Of course, that might be a hazardous question for Hillary too; after all, while Pres. Clinton may not have inhaled, well...

The debates have become a pointless circus that disserves our republic.  The candidates retreat to the safety of their talking points; the media push their own political agenda; and even the "audience" is nothing more than political operatives there to support their candidate come what may.

Let's quit pretending that there can be an unbiased approach to these things, and open it up to the ultimate in skill and positioning: the candidates themselves.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

This is really well crafted work.  Is there some problem with the debaters doing their own thing?  Their own questions and everything?   I don't know all the rules.  Are there any rules?

December 14, 2007 3:19 PM

Great article! I agree completely; if we took the control away from the media, maybe something informative would come out of these debates. As a younger person, all that I've ever known is the pointless banter and 30 second sound bites of the current debate format. It would be very interesting to see what the candidates would ask each other...

December 14, 2007 9:18 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...