Oct 15, 2012

Debating the Debate Format

Because I only developed an interest in politics about three years ago, I never took the time to watch any of the previous presidential debates. I always assumed the process would consist of a bunch of boring facts and policy plans surrounded by political nonsense. You know what they say about assuming though. I decided on watching the first Obama-Romney presidential debate. Turns out “they” were wrong. I made a second decision to watch the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan to see if there was any difference. Aside from the moderator being a little better most of the debate was composed of the same squawking that happened in the presidential debate. What’s sad is that I will probably force myself to watch the next debate as well.

My problem in not finding as much enjoyment in these debates as the mainstream political junkie would could be because I don’t watch them the correct way. Most of these people seem to be anxious with who wins (or who loses) the debate whereas I don’t care who the winner is. Well, sure, having a winner would help predict who will win the presidency, but that’s the role of Election Day. There is also personal satisfaction that comes from knowing that your team claimed victory. That is quite difficult though when you know that neither of the choices represents you.

Debates, in my opinion, should be about getting the issues out there. It shouldn’t be about whether you think a certain candidate is better than another. Rather, you should favor one set of ideas over another. It may sound like there is no difference between the two options above. All too often people become attached to a certain politician because of his appearance or personality or the usual case of which party he belongs too. When deciding on which candidate best represents you, you should focus on both the how and why they will make the current situation better.

The first way to improve the debates is to allow more people into them. By having more people on the stage there is a greater chance that new solutions will be offered for the current problems facing our nation. I don’t mean that every person running has to be included in every debate. As of now, candidates must meet three criteria set up by the Commission on Presidential Debates to be eligible to appear in national debates. These are:

1) Meet legal requirements for running
2) Appear on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical chance to win
3) Poll at 15% or greater in national polls

I happen to agree with the first two rules. The third rule gets a bit more controversial. Most national polls only include three candidates: the Democrat, the Republican, and another candidate. And by another candidate I mean the option is “Another Candidate.” There is no way to determine how many votes a particular third party or independent candidate would receive. At a more basic level other candidates don’t get recognized as running or attempting a serious campaign. The choice has been narrowed down to the public to only two candidates from the beginning. And why is 15% support needed? Why not 10%? 20%? When you’re a candidate that receives 40-50% of the vote before debating, shouldn’t people already know what you stand for? My choice would be to eliminate the final rule. I wouldn’t be against anyone, however, who would like to have candidates debate that don’t meet one of both of the first two requirements. There are two organizations that I found to be hosting their own debates that include third party candidates that did not meet the third requirement. They are the Independent Voting Network who will hold a debate between Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Free and Equal Elections who will also be holding a debate featuring Johnson and Stein as well as two other candidates, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, that do not meet the second requirement.

Another way to improve process would be to change the structure of the debates. There are a multitude of options to be chosen from this category. For example, YouTube personality drinkingwithbob proposes that there should be a two minute slot per issue given to each candidate to explain what they plan to do to improve it. I agree with his proposition for the format of the debate, although, I suppose it wouldn’t technically be considered a debate then. I disagree, however, with the timing and amount of the debates he offers.

There should be a total of four presidential debates. The first debate would happen roughly four weeks prior to Election Day. This debate would be held in the drinkingwithbob style. Such issues spoken about may include general topics as education or the environment and/or specifics like the Patriot Act. After this debate the viewer should know where each candidate stands on the issues. There would be minimum discussion between candidates, thus it would be about providing reasons as to why their stance is the right one instead of focusing why it would be terrible to vote for another candidate. The next three debates would occur once a week in the argument style with one major theme for each debate, not held in any particular order: foreign policy, social issues, and the economy. These debates would give candidates the time to defend their own policies as well as attack others. The viewer gets the bonus of knowing when candidates are hypocritical or are soft on an issue when comparing the debate to what original one.

When it comes to vice presidential debates I am not certain how significant I feel they are because the VP candidates act as another mouth or cheerleader to repeat and promote what the presidential candidate would say. Those debates seem like a waste of time if the viewer watched the presidential debates. The major argument for holding a VP debate would be to have someone portray one of the candidate’s messages that may have been unclear in a more understandable version.

Would there still be some BS thrown around in the new stylized debates? I wouldn’t doubt it, but I think it would be reduced. That would be another plus to adding more candidates. It wouldn’t be as simple as my team VS your team. It becomes Team 1 VS Team 2 VS Team 3, etc. The candidate would have to stand up for his/her own views or risk being counterattacked by multiple combatants. Until changed take place, however, we are stuck with the BS slinging of our current debaters.