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.

Dating, Deals, and Debates

As I grew up, I was infamous for making deals with my mother. My sisters had to share a room while I had my own room until I went to college, as long as I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was eighteen. I was allowed to date this boy I liked when my mom thought I was still too young for dating if I gave up chewing gum. When I wanted to go to prom at my friend’s high school that was known for a very lax administration, my mom said that I could go if I watched one of the presidential debates with her.

Unlike me while I was in high school, most people are not bribed to watch presidential debates. The people who do watch debates are often the hardcore political junkies who already know which candidate they support. How do we actually get average citizens interested in the issues and candidates enough to sit down and watch a debate? I think on some level people need to be interested in the issues because they realize that this is what shapes the world we live in. People need to watch the debates in order to become informed voters and learn more about the government that runs much of their lives. True that the Lincoln-Douglas debate style might be more interesting, but if people don’t care about the subject matter, they aren’t going to care that the debates are more interesting.

So I pose a question to other bloggers: if the debates are more interesting, will more people care about the subject matter? Or does the culture need to change before the Average Joe and Jill find the debates stimulating?