Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Better Debate Format

I've been giving serious thought to the presidential primary debates, and specifically the oft-repeated need to "thin out" the playing field. The debate formats we have seen thus far on MSNBC, Fox and CNN are simply not a proper vehicle for ten (and soon to be eleven) people to have a meaningful conversation about anything, much less the future of the Republican party and the nation. The YouTube videos we've seen from each of the candidates allow voters to hear the individual candidates speak about their positions, but this is far from a debate, where the candidates are actually challenged by their peers on those issues. Here is my idea for a better debate format.

Each candidate is paired with one other candidate for a 30-minute, one-on-one debate. At the end of each 30-minute block, the candidates swap their debate partners. Think speed-dating for politics. Before each block, each candidate picks one topic they would like to debate (i.e. foreign policy, the economy, healthcare, etc.) with their current partner. A moderator chooses a third topic. This gives each candidate an average of five minutes per topic per block. This is more time than even the most talkative windbags get for an entire debate currently, and they get it for one topic. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of this format.

  • All candidates get equal time.
  • The amount of time given per topic is enough for meaningful discussion.
  • Everyone gets to debate everyone else, nothing goes unchallenged.
  • Viewers are more fully informed.
  • This will be a long process. Each of the eleven candidates will have to debate ten times. At thirty minutes each, that's a total of fifty five hours for viewers to watch, and five-and-one-half hours for the entire process to take place.
  • This process could be more costly, as there would need to be ten moderators, one for each pairing of candidates.
  • Community input would be virtually non-existent, with the possible exception of moderators using questions from the audience, local community or internet. This is the polar opposite of a town-hall format.
Now, taking into account the pros and cons of this format, I believe YouTube, possibly partnered with a major media outlet, would be the best vehicle for delivery. YouTube could potentially even get past the "community input" problem by having users submit videos of themselves asking questions for the candidates, from which the moderators could choose.

I know I've focused exclusively on the Republican debates, but they have more candidates, which means they would have the biggest time footprint, which is the main problem I see with this format. The Democrats could get this done with twenty eight hours of viewing time out of a three hour event. Am I missing anything here?

Like this idea?

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