Presidential debates need less, not more structure
Utterly predictably, the Commission on Presidential Debates, along with the grandees of the (progressive) mainstream media, has come to precisely the wrong conclusion on changes to the form of presidential debates, in the wake of Chris Wallace's inept moderation of the first of three presidential debates.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it would consider changes to the remaining debates, citing the need for "structure" after Tuesday night's often chaotic affair was marked by repeated interruptions.
"Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," the commission said in a statement.
This view presumes that voters would be better served if each candidate had precisely equal, uninterrupted time to make oral presentations to the American people, basically reading aloud the sort of talking points that could just as well be communicated in print. It's the logic of bureaucrats and schoolteachers, prioritizing order above spontaneity and form above content.
The entire point of presidential debates is to help voters make up their minds about whom to support. A no-holds-barred debate, with the moderator's role minimal, would far better help acquaint voters with the substance and character of each candidate. If one of them interrupts the other, so what? That tells people a lot about the character of each. Is one of them a bully and the other a doormat? That's worth knowing in a world where powerful leaders of other nations are tough guys, unconstrained by notions of decorum and process unless they want to be seen a certain way.
The hard fact is that the leader of the United States faces a state of nature in the global power struggle, a world in which Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and lesser despots, not to mention democratic allies, will try to get away with as much as possible to benefit their nations, as long as they see it serving their interests. They will obey the norms of conduct only so long as it is to their advantage to do so. The same goes for Congress, in essence, prettied up by rhetoric, but a base struggle for power at its core.
An open-format presidential debate would give voters a better sense of the candidates than a tightly organized and intrusively moderated one. Moderators inevitably let their biases and preconceptions influence their conduct, and since the media are 90%+ progressives, denizens of an industry and social system deeply leftist, the less the role of a moderator, the better.
I'd favor 90 minutes with an introduction and a 30-second conclusion, following a loud buzzer. But I'd settle for 15-minute segments theoretically organized around a theme question, but completely open format after that. If it degenerates into a shouting match, that's not a tragedy, it's an exercise in character revelation.
Why give the power to control things to people like this?
YouTube screen grab.
Candy Crowley. (Photo credit: Mark Knight and Jordan Miller, licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.