What useful information has come out of those debates to help a voter make a choice on a candidate is another question.
These “debates” usually involve a panel of questioners with the rules typically being something like: Candidates get one minute to answer the question and 30 second to rebut an attack on themselves. After that, it’s a free for all with candidates interrupting each other trying to get their share of air time – between the ads that interrupt the program.
Now the format is aimed at being entertaining, to justify those high ad rates. The networks doesn’t want long, policy-based answers or the debate gets less entertaining for TV (ad rates). Thus, the “winner” typically is the candidate who got him or herself the most face time or had the best one-liner, or who fended off an attack successfully (see Sen. Rubio’s rebuff of Jeb Bush’s attempt two debates ago. That seemed to help establish Rubio as a "leader" and Bush as "loser" for setting up Rubio).
I think many of us want information from these debates, information that helps us make a reasoned decision on who we want as our president, not who is the most entertaining or the most prolific at getting his/her face on camera.
Here’s a format I’d suggest:
Limit the debate to five question. Same length of time for the debate -- two hours. That would give each candidate sufficient time to give a real answer. This forces, or tries to force, the candidates to give a substantive answer and forces the panel to work harder on those five questions. Candidates can avoid the question if they choose. But the viewers would see that and avoidance would stand out more clearly when it's just one of five responses they give. If a candidate wants to be seen as avoiding one of five questions, more power to him/her. But the voters would see that too. Here are my questions:
- Please sum up the key points in your economic plan – the spending, the taxes and the cost
- Please explain how you would approach the problem of extreme Islamic terrorism in this country and the world. What would you do to make us feel more secure?
- I know politically this is a difficult question to answer because of various considerations but who would be your top three candidates for each of these positions: Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Treasury Secretary and chief of staff?
- This campaign has been far different from other campaigns we’ve experienced both in tone and because of the emergence of social media. Some of you have adapted well, some have not. Knowing what you know now, what two things would you do differently if you could start this campaign all over?
- What would you do specifically to bridge the wide gap that exists between the two parties that has deadlocked much of the law-making process?
Some candidates have been quite specific in some proposals, others have not. I also think if they kept the debate to just five questions, they could force the candidates to answer or demonstrate they don’t know the answers and/or what their administrations would look like.
We’ve experienced the bombast. We’ve heard the soundbites. We've read the Tweets.
Now let’s get some information that will tell us what each of these candidates actually would do. And, if they can’t answer, show that, too.
Enough of trying to force candidates to answer questions in one minute or 30 seconds. Let’s give them the time to respond not limited time in which they can avoid.
Bad TV maybe, but good information potentially for those of us who have to make up our minds.