Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

In no particular order:

1. It was better than the previous debate.

2. It was still not very good.  I have nothing against interruptions and cross-talk; but interruptions and cross-talk work in a relatively unscripted, normal-ish, conversational-style argument—NOT in a debate where the moderator is timing everything down to the nonce, and trying to keep the candidates on schedule like a dog-trainer attempting to corral a pair of overly enthusiastic Golden Retrievers.

3. Apropos the previous remark, I imagine if Lincoln and Douglas had gotten into crosstalk, they would have been able to sort it out themselves, and not needed an outside whistle-blower.  (Yes, I know it was the 1850s and it wasn’t a presidential election and people were better trained rhetoricians with real short-term memories back then.  It’s still my gold standard when I imagine what’s about to happen every time I tune in to one of these slam-fests.  Great expectations, mon frères; great expectations.)

4. Apropos that previous remark, I have a proposal for how future presidential and vice-presidential and in general public debates ought to go.

a. Longer response times (two minutes? how about five?).

b.Single response times that are interruption free.  The candidates can wait to respond till the free-for-all (see below).  If during one of these periods they HAVE to interrupt something their opponent says to “correct” it, it just looks like (i) they lack short-term memory; (ii) they lack self-restraint; (iii) they are a cad; (iv) all of the above.  The moderator should announce this beforehand.

c. Free-for-alls alternating with the single response times.  This means the candidates can shout at each other for ten minutes to get it all out of their systems.  Good luck not looking (i) weak or (ii) a jerk.  Everyone who’s run in recent years will need it.

d. NO SCRIPTED QUESTIONS.  Seriously, if the candidates don’t know (i) what they want to talk about, (ii) what the important issues of the day are, and (iii) what the public is curious to hear, SHOULD WE REALLY BE ELECTING THEM?  I thought not.  Let the candidates figure these things out for themselves, instead of giving them exactly 3 minutes and 25.87 seconds to talk about each topic that the moderator and her skillful team have determined is on the menu tonight.  So maybe we get a debate that talks only about jobs and abortion.  Or a debate where the conversation ends up being 90% nuclear weapons and 10% VA funding.  So what?  We might actually get beyond talking points then and have a substantive conversation.

e. But—but—but—talking points are all the public care about now?

f. Oh really?  Am I not also the public?

g. Besides, the public have Twitter and Facebook if they want their talking points.  And trust me, the candidates can still get out plenty of good (bad) lines in a format like the one I’m describing.  They’ll just be forced to display their (lack of?) intelligence as well.  Win-win.

h.You can have a moderator, but she’s strictly there to give the don’t-be-a-cad introduction, look pretty, and keep her finger on the stopwatch/ding-dong-bell.  If deemed necessary, bouncers may be retained in the wings to separate the two candidates or silence them both, should their behavior become excessively obnoxious.

i. So, summary of the Girl Who Was Saturday’s debate format.  Flip a coin to determine who gets the first five minutes.  Then it’s five minutes per each candidate, followed by a ten minute free-for-all.  Rinse and repeat ad nauseum, but ad less nauseum than anything weve seen in recent years. 
ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN.  It would be almost like watching the World Series or something.  Better, actually, because no coaches to advise them during play.  SERIOUSLY, THEY JUST TAKE TURNS AND CAN MAKE ANY MOVES THEY WANT.  So maybe more like watching televised chess.  BUT WITH YELLING.  So, still, better?

5. If you ever wanted to know why I don’t usually do posts as lists, this is why.

6. This is possibly the most irritated and least linguistically polished post I have done in a while.

7. But maybe a little bit funny and sort of kind of true (insofar as a practical proposal, as opposed to a theoretical statement, can be called “true”)?


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