21 October 2010

No 'Exchange of Ideas' in Inclusive Debates?

James V. Franco took his parting shot at the seven-candidate New York gubernatorial debate in today's Troy Record. Before the event took place, he complained that the inclusion of five independent candidates would divert the debate from what he deemed its proper purpose, which was to put front-runner Andrew Cuomo on the spot throughout. He reports today that the event itself left him "just shaking my head."

A candidate from The Rent is 2 Damn High Party. A former madame. A candidate who during his introduction said a black person or an Asian should be asking the questions. There were seven in all and each was given the same amount of time to answer and rebut the same questions.It was a circus, not an exchange of, or challenge to, ideas.

Franco's comments beg the question of how he defines "ideas." My hunch is that he simply didn't hear enough of the "ideas" he already believed in, nor the "ideas" he dislikes challenged often enough. He makes clear yet again today that the only proper subject for a gubernatorial debate in his mind is "Is Andrew Cuomo qualified to be governor, pro or con?" Nothing that is not a direct challenge to Cuomo and his "ideas" is worth Franco's time. That's why, even though he's given up hope for Carl Paladino's Republican candidacy, he still feels that Cuomo should debate Paladino mano-i-mano. Monday's debate was worthless, in his view, because "Having seven people [ad hominem comments redacted] dilutes Cuomo’s exposure." He thinks that Cuomo insisted on having all the independents on stage Monday for exactly that reason, when it was Paladino, from what I've read, who insisted on the most inclusive debate.

Since his last, pre-debate column, Franco has looked up the debate mandate of the Commission on Presidential Elections. He's found that the CPE is supposed to “ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners." The "best possible information" clause would be his justification for excluding Kristin Davis, for instance. "Somehow, I get the feeling a former madame making homophobe jokes wouldn’t get an invite," he writes. Davis isn't running for President, of course, but Franco has written previously that the CPE's more exclusionary debate guidelines should have been applied to the gubernatorial candidates in New York. Never mind that she played by the rules and has an equal ballot line to the Democratic and Republican candidates; Citizen Franco has judged her a second-class candidate.

My own proposal for revamping the debate format, which I posted yesterday, would give voters an opportunity to pass just such a judgment, but not before Davis or any other allegedly frivolous candidate has at least one chance to make her case to the state as a legal equal to all the other candidates. People like Franco are annoyed at Davis or James McMillan getting even that one opportunity, as their criticisms of the Hofstra debate attest. They have an objective cause for complaint in the debate organizers' failure to take more time for seven candidates than they usually reserve for only two. But I doubt whether Franco would have been more satisfied with the exchange of ideas in a longer format. While he makes a favorable mention of Lincoln and Douglas today, he thinks that their 1858 three-hour debate format "may be a bit much" by today's standards. Worse, no extension of time is likely to make him more tolerant of alternate voices. He still finds Paladino "refreshing" because he "talked like he was hanging out at a diner or a pub not like he was on stage reading a script," but I wonder whether he'd be as tolerant of Paladino's refreshing manner if the Buffalo businessman were only the Taxpayers party candidate distracting from Rick Lazio's challenge to Cuomo. Without the GOP brand label, unconventional oratory only irritates Franco. He claims to want an alternative to business-as-usual in Albany, but his attitude toward indisputable alternatives standing in front of him makes me wonder how badly he actually wants change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd guess the only real change he's interested in is a change from a Democrat governor to a Republican governor - as long as that governor cut taxes for Mr. Franco.