Guest commentary: Let’s (really) debate
The presidential debates of the 2016 campaign are rapidly approaching, and I would like to offer an alternate format to the awkward (read: intellectually insulting) format that we, the American people, have suffered under for these many years.
Currently, these debates are moderated by a journalist or a cluster of them with questions they believe are either relevant to the prevailing issues or “gotcha.” Sometimes they succeed in getting direct answers. Most of the time, they do not.
By and large, the answers that are given by the candidates are either hollow rhetoric or an annoying segue to the candidates’ stump ideology. With no real follow-up from the questioner, the viewer gets little if any insight into the mindset and character of the interviewee, which is the primary object of the debate.
I propose a totally different, and more rational, format, like this:
1. The debate would be scheduled for two hours.
2. Each candidate would come prepared with their own series of questions for the other candidate relating to a topic previously agreed upon.
3. The candidates would take turns asking their questions.
4. Each questioner would be allotted up to 10 minutes, to permit constant follow-up till the questioner was satisfied the question was duly answered. (If after 10 minutes the questioner was unable to elicit a coherent answer, then we’ve already learned something about the responder.)
5. A true debate would evolve by default. This format should generate enthusiastic popular support because it is logical (although logic nowadays is often disparaged) and it is nonpartisan (clearly, neither party has any advantage). Certainly, it would reveal a great deal more about the candidates than we have been able to discern during their campaigns or previous debates, because:
• The selection of questions would shed much light on the questioner’s concern, knowledge and position of an issue.
• The questioner would have the opportunity to challenge the responder on certain disparaging or untrue remarks made at some earlier date during the primaries.
• We would see how tenacious the questioner can be and how evasive the responder may react.
• From the answers we would know, how knowledgeable the responder is, how willing to agree or disagree, how rational are the answers and how willing the responder is to stay on point and not attempt to digress to more comfortable ground.
• We would avoid having the audience, and the media blame third-party questioners for particularly “soft” or “hard” questions since there’ll be no third-party questioners.
Although this is obviously a totally nonpartisan adventure, we may expect some pushback from the media since they see these debates as an opportunity for worldwide recognition for their leading pundits. This would be softened by including a handful of them at “ringside” acting as referees and/or instant fact-checker (each equipped with access to the internet). There will be unlimited challenges allowed. By not limiting challenges, it will behoove the responders to stay on track for the entire period. It also will put pressure on the questioner to be certain before he imposes a challenge.
The character, personality and intellect of each candidate will become significantly more transparent under this format, and undoubtedly, the entire dynamics of the debate will be changed for the better — at least for the American viewer.
Donald Flaks lives in Carbondale.
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