At last! A serious televised GOP debate

If you are as sick of the sound bite debate format as I am, there is cause to cheer today. C-SPAN has announced that it will televise Saturday night's debate between Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain in  Texas.  We shall finally have a shot at the longed-for Lincoln-Douglas style extended discussion.  Full answers will be allowed.  The timekeeper will be Rep. Steve King, with the subjects economic and social issues.

Instead of a format designed to encourage punchy jabs at each other, the Cain-Gingrich debate has the potential to educate, elucidate, and even persuade. Instead of being a shooting gallery, the debate could become a classroom.

The process by which the debate emerged as a televised national event is notable.  A grass roots group, the Texas Tea Party Patriot PAC, came up with the event as a fundraising opportunity, and the two men agreed.  Andrew Malcolm of played a key role:

We wondered out loud if in 2011 sitcommed Americans would sit still for 90 minutes of political discussion by two of the party's better speakers uninterrupted by "these important messages"? The networks' answer to this weekend opportunity was silence.

"Hello, C-SPAN," we wrote. "Are you there?"

Many of you agreed, tweeting pleas to us and to C-SPAN for televised access to a GOP front-runner and a resurgent Gingrich at this private function in Houston via the treasured public affairs network. We passed our messages on to Brian Lamb's crew in D.C.

And guess what? C-SPAN was there. And C-SPAN was listening.

The C-SPAN network has just informed us here at that it will, indeed, broadcast the entire Cain-Gingrich Lincoln-Douglas debate nationally Saturday evening on its main channel, plus C-SPAN Radio and live-stream it at Starting time is 5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern.

Notice that this was an entirely spontaneous movement. Each of the parties involved was operating out of self interest. It is an example of what organizational theorists call and "emergent" phenomenon, as opposed to a planned operation

The Texans are raising money, and offering a valuable service to their base, while advancing the broader cause.

The candidates are getting a forum, and believe they will benefit from depth.

Grass roots conservatives finally break the media-imposed format and get to hear two conservative candidates in depth.

C-SPAN, a nonprofit established by and funded by the cable and Satellite industry, gets to fulfill its mission, respond to viewer requests, and gain more viewers and visibility.

Andrew Malcolm gets some credit for helping this boon to become reality.

I expect that a lot of people will watch this. Those who are busy Saturday can always view it later, because C-SPAN maintains video archives (here.

It would not surprise me if the two men engaged in more of a collaborative than a confrontational mode. Newt has all the experience and policy depth that Cain lacks. Cain has the likability and the commitment to principle that the conservative base craves. I earlier offered a thought experiment on a running mate able to backstop Cain's profile as a new entrant to politics.  Newt brings many of the same compensating virtues that Romney would, minus the fundraising potential.