I'm writing this before the first Republican debate because it has nothing to do about the debate itself, but it has everything to do with the state of the political system, the media and the national discourse.
First, even calling this format a debate is Orwellian. There is absolutely no debate taking place. There is nothing in the format that even remotely resembles debating on any level.
From the Webster Dictionary to the Oxford Dictionary a debate is defined as:
A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.
In the current format there are no particular issues up for debate. There is merely one question per candidate that must be answered in 60 seconds. There is absolutely no discussion, and an opposing argument may only exist for 30 seconds, and that is only if a candidate's name is mentioned within the first 60 seconds of answering the question.
At best this format may be described as a short Q & A, at worst, just re-hashed talking points that everyone is already familiar with and will only be hyperbole at best.
The most famous debate in our nation's history took place between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Commonly known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, these were not even presidential debates, but debates for Senator.
There was no moderator and just three simple rules. In each debate (there were seven) either Douglas or Lincoln would open with an hour address. The other would then speak for an hour and a half. The first then had 30 minutes of rebuttal.
In this Thursday's "so-called" debate there is NO opening statement by any candidate, NO rebuttal and NO closing statement unless time permits.
I realize times have changed and we live in a short attention span era, but even high school students who compete in Lincoln-Douglas style debates have a much greater chance for true discourse.
Here is a sample of how these current high school debates are handled:
• It begins with a six-minute opening affirmative constructive of the topic
• That is followed by a three-minute cross examination
• Then there is a seven-minute negative constructive
• Followed by a three-minute cross examination
• That is followed by a six-minute affirmative rebuttal
• Which is then followed by a six-minute negative rebuttal
• Concluding with a second three-minute affirmative rebuttal
Now, if the attention span of high school students can handle it than we full-fledged adults should be able to as well.
Ah, but you say we are not dealing with one-on-one debates; we have ten candidates who need to express themselves. This now takes us to the media in general.
With 24/7 hour news channels, some that even in prime time need to be filled with travel cooking shows, if they chose to they could easily have two candidates debate each day for the week. Give them one-hour and cut either the cooking show or one of the comedy shows they air.
Since this election campaigning will go on for a full year and a half since the first candidate made his announcement and a year and four months from this first debate. That means that it is only the decision of a handful of people who are determining how "We the People" get our information. And this is where our own national discourse comes in.
We must take the responsibility. We can no longer afford to let the political parties or the media make these decisions. Robbie Bach, the former President of Microsoft and the Chief Officer of the creation and launch of the Xbox has a new book titled: XBOX Revisited. One of the key aspects is his plan for civic renewal. Robbie will be a guest on my show next week and he writes the following: "The problem we face is that we've lost the ability to articulate what is important and then discuss the issues clearly."
We do not need to go back over 150 years to Lincoln-Douglas but we do need to go forward in order to, at the very least, have a level of discourse that even a high school student can appreciate.