Last night’s Democratic candidate debate was an unqualified disaster. Erick Erickson and others on this site wrote several articles detailing how awful it was. Social media still echoes from last night’s repast with the strains of dyspeptic eructations like they had all eaten a pineapple-topped pizza procured from the dumpster behind Wal-Mart. It was terrible.
Sure, you can blame CBS. You can blame the candidates for being so ill-prepared and at the same time positively rabid to score some hits–any hits, on anyone–in order to preserve their imploding campaigns. You can blame Bernie Sanders for being so improbably popular, despite the fact that he’s literally selling poverty to the masses. You can blame Elizabeth Warren for being strangely attracted to Bernie like how a winsome naif in a vampire movie is taken by Dracula–she protests then offers her neck.
But the problem isn’t any of those things, though those things in themselves are problems of their own which defy rational solution. The problem is that debates, as a method for exposition of a candidate’s positions, policies, and ability to both articulate and defend campaign planks, are dead. They aren’t just dead: They are fossilized.
Theses debates are like entertainment award shows, but the awards are never given–just endless acceptance speeches with no statues or trophies. They should be axed forever and replaced with something more in touch with the times.
I suggest doing something online, live-streamed, and relevant. How about a series of “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) sessions like are famous on the social media site Reddit? It would work, absolutely.
The AMA would feature one interviewer–preferably someone somewhat neutral, or at least respected. A press pool, and a number of screeners, would offer the questions. Make it 50 percent press questions and 50 percent public. Screeners would filter out obvious trolls, and a “technical reaction team” would try to ensure that bots, coordinated hits, and attacks were countered.
Candidates would sit in a studio, live-streamed and carried by a network or networks, and get hit with questions and have a time limit to answer before moving on. Kind of like a Town Hall except the producers don’t get to hand pick a telegenic and friendly audience. There would be no “off limits” questions (other than good taste), and candidate campaigns would get no “refusals.”
We could even make it spicier by having the other candidates be able to ask a single question of the one sitting for the AMA, and the moderator would randomly choose which one to ask. The show would be an hour, max, with a few breaks; broken down into a five minute intro segment, 40 minutes of questions (including commercial breaks), 10 minutes of rebuttal, and a 5 minute closing.
AMAs are much more interesting than the unrestrained brawl we witnessed last night. And since there’s none of the interruptions and overtalking, the person on the hot seat has to answer the question–I’d give the interviewer the authority to ask a followup or dig if the candidate punted an answer.
Imagine Bernie Sanders having to answer for his praising communist nations or calling on Belgium as a shining example of socialism when Belgium itself is a shining example of free market entrepreneurship.
The biggest problem with the AMA forum is that none of the candidates would want to do it. Too bad. Make them do it, because it’s supposed to be a political party’s job to inform its members and the nation. They’re supposed to be grown-ups doing adult things. Instead, we got Romper Room.
By 2024, we need to have come up with a better way–whether that’s an AMA or some other forum, we can’t have any more Romper Rooms. It’s embarrassing to America and to our nation around the world. Debates are fossils and need to be buried deep under the ground with all the other fossils.
I, like many other sane people, hope we never have another debate like last night. In fact, I hope we never have another one, period.