Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How to fix the presidential debates

These so-called debates are so absurd that I can’t stand to watch them.  Even when I’m at home alone, I get too embarrassed and have to turn the channel.  I try to watch, but I just can’t.  And these debacles don’t in any way resemble an actual debate.  Rather, the participants’ goals seem to be: (1) interrupt your opponent as often as possible; (2) ignore the question whenever possible and instead talk about something completely unrelated; and (3) work in as many sound bites as possible.  And the moderators don’t help either.  Their two biggest problems are: (1) they seem to be participating in the debate rather than moderating it; and (2) they ask absurd questions about topics that are far beyond the reach of the office of the president.  The good news, however, is that there is a simple fix.  Because the Commission on Presidential Debates seems to be really dense, and has no idea how to structure debates to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners,” I’ll put this advice in the form of a simple numeric list.

  1. The participants should each be seated at a separate table, several feet apart from each other.   
  2. The moderator should pose the question.  While background information may precede the question, the moderator should not be arguing or advancing a position on the topic.
  3. The moderator should avoid stupid questions, such as how a candidate would fix the inner city problems of City X, Y, or Z.  The president has no control over this.  If he did, it would have been fixed by now.  
  4. Once the question is posed, participant A should get up to two minutes to answer it.  Participant B should then get three minutes on the same topic.  Participant A should then get one minute for rebuttal. 
  5. For the next question, the order should be reversed.
  6. The moderator must control access to the microphones.  Participants should be given a signal when they are within fifteen seconds of their end time.  When time is up, the moderator must cut off their microphone.  The microphone must remain off while the other participant is speaking. 
  7. Participants must not be allowed to use their time for any topic they wish.  If they veer off the topic of the question, the moderator must cut off their microphone, terminate their time, and immediately go to the other participant.
  8. Bashing the opponent is absolutely permitted, provided the bashing relates to the question being asked. 
This should dramatically curtail the absurdity of these train wrecks they’re calling debates.  Until then, at least we have Alec Baldwin, Kate McKinnon, and Michael Che.


  1. Fully agree with your take on these "debates"--and with your eight recommendations for improvement, which would certainly "curtail the absurdity". I doubt, however, whether the curtailment would be "dramatic"--given, in the present case, the caliber of the two candidates.

    1. Yeah, you could be right on that. In the past I have criticized people for saying that they don't like either candidate. My theory was that there will always be enough differences between the two candidates that you will like one of them. And these two are quite different from each other, but they're both so unlikable that they've proved me wrong. They've blown my theory out of the water.

    2. It also occurs to me that making these "debates" into true debates, by means of your recommendations, would make them civilized and even intellectual--thereby, in all likelihood, generating lower ratings for the mass media. It must cater to the ill-educated masses (or thinks it must--and, probably, knows no better in any event).

    3. This is a good point. After all, ratings drive everything. If the debates weren't mud-slinging events, maybe the networks would shun them and the debates would be relegated to CSPAN2 or something.