Last week was a big week for Arizona State University: a Nobel Prize for one of its faculty, competing (as No. 15) against the No. 1 college football team in the nation — and of course, hosting the final 2004 presidential debate.
And instead of serving as fodder for true political discourse and decision-making this year’s debates — all of them — were designed to pander to the candidates’ desire to repeat and repeat and repeat their sound-bites and to drill and drill and drill their generalizations into voters’ heads — and above all, to appear flawless rather than real.
We tend to observe that this kind of elementalism stinks in more voters’ nostrils, rather than filling them with enticing electoral aromas. People who take 90 minutes out of one, two or three days every four years tune in to hear the candidates are for the most part going to be put off by such rote statements and certainly not drawn to voting for anybody.
There should be far fewer rules. Candidates should be able to answer each other directly and challenge each other’s answers for factual content. Time limits should be relaxed so that one candidate doesn’t simply blather on to fill up his allotted seconds while another’s complex answer is denied a few seconds more. Moderators should be empowered to strictly police "speechifying" and go after straight answers.
Candidates need the exposure of the debates to advance their causes far more than the debates need the candidates’ grossly conditional participation. Let’s see the 2008 debates organized and managed with the voters’ interests first, the campaigns’ interests last.