Presidential Elections Will Never Be The Same After This Move By The GOP

The Republican Party has announced its intention to refrain from participating in presidential debates hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates.  I am delighted to see what should be the end of the government-run Commission.  My euphoria has nothing to do with the current political climate.  I never liked the Commission – and have written of my disdain in the past.

Like all government agencies, the Commission had a decided leftward lean.  After all, bureaucrats are part of – and benefit from – big government.  As a conservative, I am generally repulsed by government taking over – controlling – things that the private sector can do better.

Like all government agencies, the Commission was expensive and wasteful.  They operate every day of every year even though they only produce debates every four years. They claim that in the interim, the Commission staff educates other entities and other nations how to organize debates – a totally unnecessary and wasteful service.  As a person who has hosted and negotiated many major political debates, I cannot see where it takes a lot of outside consultation.

Everything I fear about government-run presidential debates – and then some – manifested themselves in the Commission.  Too Expensive.  Too biased.  Too much media participation. Too much show biz and crappy formats.  Conversely, there was too little useful information for the public.  

The Commission inevitably became an elitist establishment playground – just like public radio and television.  And what they produce is a game show.

My opposition should not be construed as opposition to presidential debates.  Quite the contrary.  I strongly favor a healthy series of debates – just not those run by Uncle Sam.  I prefer to see more debates.  Not fewer.

Undoubtedly, the most famous political debates were between Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen Douglas – but those were not presidential debates.  The modern era was launched in 1960 between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator Jack Kennedy.  It was not until 1976 – 16 years before the next one between Governor Jimmy Carter and President Jerry Ford.  These later debates were generally negotiated and hosted by news services or civic organizations.  For a brief period, the League of Women Voters had control of the franchise.  Then came the Commission.

I personally like the idea of stakeholder interest groups hosting the debates.  Each debate would require agreement among the candidates in terms of hosts, formats, moderators and panels of questioners.  I would NOT allow members of the media to participate.  It is their job to cover and report the news – not create it or spin it.

Whenever I could get the candidates to agree, I did not use journalists.  Rather, the panel was composed of people from interest groups – chambers of commerce, labor unions, educators, civic leaders.  Journalists are too steeped in the partisan politics rather than the issues.  They like gotcha questions.

I always had strict time limits no matter the format.  The Commission’s practice of arbitrary allotting time – and most to a frontrunner – is patently unfair.  The location of the candidates on the stage should be by lottery.  The Commission gives the most prominent spots to those with the highest poll numbers – reinforcing the impression of inevitability.

Since interest groups ask more important questions, I would allow more time for answers and rebuttals – getting away from sound-bite responses.

I also like unrehearsed questions from the public by lottery.  No pre-programmed questions like CNN does in their townhall meeting.  

Especially for presidential debates, I would be inclined to have two moderators – but not two with the same perspectives and biases as the Commission has had.

Presidential debates can be far more interesting … far more informative … and far more small “d” democratic.

The refusal of the GOP to participate should result in the immediate disbanding the Commission.  It no longer serves any purpose.  But I am betting that – as a creature of government – it will continue well beyond its utility.  Perhaps as a bad example of how presidential debates should not be run.

Let us just hope that our political leaders to not blow this opportunity to produce great and informative presidential debates in the future.

So, there ‘tis.

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