I’m looking forward to tonight’s debate between Bush and Kerry. Even though I’m 150% clear on which candidate I will vote for, the idea of seeing them actually debate the issues in person, instead of beating each other up in the media, is quite appealing.
The debates in recent years have been pretty damn lousy, though. They’re basically glorified infomercials. I figured this was because the Republican and Democratic parties have become too similar – giving me additional fuel in this idea was a recent NPR story that pointed out Gore and Bush agreeing on ~33% of questions in one of the 2000 debates.
However, I think the more likely cause is the damned Commission on Public Debates. In 1988, the Republican and Democratic parties teamed up to create this organization, which designs the format of the debates and generates agreement between the two parties on the issues which will be covered. It appears that all the questions are decided prior to the event, so that the candidates can easily generate the soundbite answers. Further, the candidates are prohibited from asking questions of each other, or interrupting. Wow, fabulous. So let me see if I’ve got this straight: the candidates get the questions beforehand, the PR teams write their responses, and then the candidates just have to compellingly sell the memorized lines to the cameras. There is no interaction between the candidates allowed, and furthermore, the camera angles are set up in a way that prevents us from directly comparing the candidates. There are no third-party candidates, blah blah blah…
Geeeez, no wonder the debates are so damned boring and useless. If I don’t know where these candidates stand on the issues by now, I must have been asleep the past two years. It’s not like they’re going to talk about something new or controversial, like say, the effect of the continuing consolidation of media companies and how that stifles open communication and discussion.
This page discusses the problem with the debates better than I ever could.