29 October 2015
The debate debate
Republicans are right and wrong to bitch about the debates for presidential candidates. If their complaint is that they aren't real, substantive debates, I'll gladly agree. It's hard to have one of those with ten people on the podium in a two-hour time slot, the length being shortened from the previous gathering at the insistence of Donald Trump and Dr. Carson. Carson continues to complain about "gotcha" questions, and while it's tempting to criticize him for ducking what others might consider tough or at least appropriate questions, let's concede, from the reports I've read, that some of the questions were trivial, and remember that substantive debates need not include questions at all, at least from moderators. Lincoln and Douglas took questions only from each other -- and from each man's perspective the other's probably were all gotcha questions -- and had no moderator during their 1858 tour of Illinois. Since a real debate has only two sides, it would be up to the Republican National Committee to arrange a round-robin format so each of the top-tier contenders, however identified, could go one-on-one before the first primary or caucus. Let each round of debates address a specific field of policy: economics, foreign policy, criminal justice, etc., and let the candidates present themselves unmoderated and unmediated. One virtue of this proposal would be to stop the Republicans in particular from whining, as several did last night, about mainstream media bias. By now I've decided that for all their bitching about the major networks acting as lobbyists for liberalism, what Republicans really want is exactly what they claim to denounce: a media like they allegedly have in Russia or like China definitely has that obediently echoes the correct ideological line. Republicans claim to want balance rather than bias, but whenever anyone challenges them they claim bias, so they must want media that will never challenge them. But since the media in this country consists of private corporations, they owe the government nothing but obedience to law, and they owe less still to the party in power. Republicans ought to appreciate that, but their characteristic desire not to be contradicted, their assumption of bias in disagreement, overrides their supposed civil-society principles in times of tension. But no worries! Do away with the moderators, stage real debates and they can't complain about bias. The only thing I would ask of Republicans is that they honor the practice of their virtual founding father and do these debates in true Lincoln-Douglas style, which would mean two men sharing the stage for three hours, one speaking for an hour at the start and a half-hour at the end, the other getting 90 minutes in the middle. Trump and Carson might protest, but the protests would only expose their increasingly obvious shortcomings. Admittedly the format would most likely expose the shortcomings of the audience as well, but self-styled conservatives should not be surprised if the present generation fails to live up to the glorious past.