September 19, 2007

Commissioning the Presidential Debate

For years, presidential debates were sponsored by the networks and the League of Women Voters. However, for every debate since 1988, including the upcoming 2008 debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates has had control of the debates.
The Commission, formed of bipartisan members, gets to decide who can debate, where the debates will be held, and who will moderate them.
According to Common Dreams, the Commission has a history of advocating for an even stronger, more defined, two-party system. When Ross Perot joined Clinton and Bush the First in the 1992, the networks experienced record-breaking audiences. While this increase in viewers is likely due to the novelty of a three party debate, at least it got more people to pay attention.
Maybe a little more novelty is what we need. The presidential debates today are boring to everyone who isn’t a political geek, and most of them already know the candidates’ positions.
Why not allow the candidates to ask each other questions, to rebut each others’ assertions, to discuss topics at length? And why not – get your tasers ready – let the audience participate? Would it be a little disorganized? Sure, but debate should be disorganized, and no important issue fits neatly into a nice, 30-second box.
Of course, this would require the Commission, so invested in maintaining the status quo, to either open its mind or step off. A number of citizen’s groups have advocated just that. Check out the Citizen’s Debate Commission (, which proposes a new way to run the debates.
Need more reasons why this system needs to change? NPR commentator Connie Rice has 10.

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