THE BLOG

A Perspective on the Debates

10/30/2012 08:33 pm ET | Updated Dec 30, 2012

Weeks ago, President Obama was being held responsible for the economic doldrums that had engulfed the country. Today, some of the leading economists were on television this weekend, portraying a far more promising picture for the years ahead with the president being praised for some of the steps his administration has taken. Would Obama have had to struggle at all to correct the negative image had it not been for that initial debate and his inept ability to neutralize Romney? Probably not.

But neither the Commission on Presidential Debates, the television networks or the political parties have had an interest in changing the tone of the questions.

Let's be done with the "gotcha" possibility that pits one candidate against the other. Let's put politics back in the politics of debates. Strip the television moderators of the power to select questions that might be of headline value, but not necessarily of any substance. Instead, it should be the Commission's responsibility to single out knowledgeable historians or political scholars at our major universities to shape the questions to be asked of the candidates. They also should monitor the accuracy of the candidates' answers. We should not have to wait until after the conclusion of each debate for network fact-checkers to validate assertions by the candidates. The moderator also should be empowered to shut off the microphones when one candidate attempts to interfere with the opposing candidate's response. That is what is called for in traditional debating procedures.

It is factual or timely information or assertions by the candidates that should emerge. But in none of the three televised presidential debates recently concluded was Governor Romney challenged to cite examples of the jobs he said he would create for tens of thousands of unemployed workers in America, if he is elected to be president. Neither was he asked to his plan to increase tens of millions of dollars in defense spending while the Pentagon was precisely proposing exactly the opposite in recent years.

Nor, faced with criticism for a lapse of security at the time of the attack in Benghazi and the death of four Americans, President Obama should have but did not respond with a reference to how the Republican-controlled House had made severe reductions of the State Department's budget for national security.

At each of the televised debates, Romney's hostility toward bedrock programs like Social Security, medical care and financial regulatory reforms that would undermine the economic stability of middle-class Americans, went unchallenged either by the moderators or President Obama.

These issues account for the existing causes of unemployment and the sluggish economy that have been largely responsible for the close nature of the presidential race.

But the president did not help himself. He might have used the influence of his office as a bully pulpit to remind television viewers of how times have changed that justified the military draft, a massive arms buildup, prohibitive defense budget and a remarkable expenditure to land a man on the moon, all of which created jobs that have vanished, making improvements or calling for greater expenditures more difficult in the immediate future.

Unfortunately, neither candidate in these debates seems willing to call for patience from an indifferent, impatient population with little knowledge or interest in the past.

It's the reality that makes the televised debates seem so unreal. Perhaps it is time for an alternative during the next presidential election.

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