What should one make of U.S. political debates? They appear to drag on interminably, rarely reaching a reasonable conclusion or consensus for action. Clearly, the hyper-partisanship is part of the problem but not the only problem. At the same time, polls indicate that many Americans hold views based on absolute falsehoods.
Given this political reality, consider an alternative way to conduct national and statewide debates, a print debate. A print debate is a structured political discourse with the written word that has utility with both policy issues and electoral campaigns.
The print debate constitutes a level communications playing field defined by rules and terms. It would appear on a formal Internet platform that would feature a series of easily printed magazine-size dialogue documents of, say 4-12 pages each.
A print debate could take place step-by-step over four to six weeks. Each side would have time to put forth their views carefully. Clarity of message would be a central goal in the effort to develop the rules and terms for this process.
Print debate sections could vary depending on a given round. One phase could describe issues with visual documentation while another might contain a list of questions preceded by the context in which that question was being asked. An additional section could summarize positions that might acknowledge some movement towards the other side after seeing their presentation in the previous round. And it could also feature absolute defiance as this form does not limit the substance of a leader's statements.
Opposing sides of candidates or policy debates could launch inquiries and rebuttals with the purpose of clarifying their own arguments or critiquing the views of their opponents. Claims on either side could be more easily verified or disproved by means of the written word. This should result in greater focus being directed towards the specific arguments and the policies surrounding them. The rules that shape this very public process would evolve over time.
The print debate would create a modern form of political dialogue that would share fundamental characteristics with The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers of 1787 and 1788 in which James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay openly debated important political and philosophical issues in the newspapers of the day. Once these views were debated in the written word, there was a specific winner and loser. The Anti-Federalists, championed by Melancton Smith, Robert Yates and John Lansing, lost this debate
While existing platforms featuring opposing sides abound, this back and forth process will encourage drilling down on the specific statements and assumptions of an opposing view. This structured clash of views should yield a greater public recognition of historical truth rather than we commonly experience.
This deliberative and sustained process may lead to a clearer public understanding of political issues. Only one of these political views may hold up to scrutiny. Weak arguments or flawed positions will become more apparent in a print debate, which could often yield an identifiable winner and loser.
Print debate terms would need to be established by a relevant overseeing body. When considering how these national and state-by-state overseeing bodies would be shaped, consider public opinion polls. What happens when the public gets a specific say into the way that leaders communicate to them? These events present an explicit opportunity for the citizen to play a role in shaping the larger communications environment.
The cynic, and that is probably the majority view today given our political environment, would anticipate someone manipulating the rules and terms to make this process ineffective. Yet those public opinion polls will encourage shaping this process in a very direct way. Each element of the print debate will be subject to scrutiny. This abundance of transparency coincides with the knowledge that the citizen will play a key role in shaping how important messages come from political leaders.
Once this idea is introduced, some leaders will become very vocal in support of this level communications playing field. If this garners support from the public, others will follow.
After the print debate arrives on the national agenda, it will be difficult to stop.