Reform the debates, please

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, October 9, 2008 0:25 EDT
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Since I found myself alternately bored and squirming in angsty fury last night during the townhall debate, I’m siding with Lindsay—something has to be done about these terrible debates. I realize campaign people are risk averse, and so even when they have a much stronger candidate like Obama is over McCain, they tend to want a place where candidates can spout pre-packaged talking points rather than actually engage questions, but Lindsay’s right. The format gives the loser a lot more breathing room.

We don’t need the debate to cover each candidate’s entire worldview and platform. We need a format that will test their actual debating skills and their grasp of specific issues. The current format is so easy on the candidates that even the weaker of the two can muddle along, carefully avoiding the questions and the specifics.

Palin was less a gibbering mess during her debate than during her interviews because she could spout zingers and lines instead of engage the questions. Had they had a real debate about the issues, Biden would have buried her. Honestly, McCain wouldn’t be much better under more direct pressure. What was making me climb the walls last night was watching Obama get visibly frustrated with the way that McCain kept regurgitating the same tired lies and nonsense. The candidates agree ahead of time to short responses with no back and forth, which means that if you try to reply to someone lying, you look like you’re a mic hog. The best part of the debate was where they swapped off back and forth on the economy, and even that would have been better if it had been looser. Had they had more room to really has it out, I think it would have been better. The best debates were between the candidates in the Democratic primaries when it was just 2 or 3 candidates, and they were able to really engage each other.

No way would Republicans go for this, and Democrats would perhaps be even more worried because they’d be afraid they’d spend so much time correcting lies that they wouldn’t have time to be affirmative. (Obama’s biggest mistake yet again. Biden was amazing because he merely smiled when Palin lied and kept talking about himself and his running mate as if she didn’t matter.) And that is a concern. But anything has to be better than that wah-wah-you’re-breaking-the-rules crap that happened because neither candidate had a chance to respond in the moment with the rules as written.

Let’s hope the last one isn’t horrific. It’s domestic policy, which is where Obama speaks from the hip easily.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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