Debates Are Ridiculous; Let’s Move On

Associated Press/Pool-Win McNamee – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee)

A half century ago, the idea of televising a debate between two Presidential candidates was breakthrough thinking. Beginning in 2016, I think we can use our new and emerging media to do a better job, and, presumably, to choose our new leader with greater insight, wisdom, and knowledge.

Let’s begin with some pre-reading materials. During the primary process, each candidate for president should be required to complete and submit a job application. The application should require work history, evidence of compliance with laws (for example, age and place of birth), and so on. Prior to each party’s national convention, each candidate should be required to clearly present his or her platform, in detail, by category, complete with data and factual references (given the dynamic nature of our economy and such, each candidate may revise this document at pre-appointed intervals). Then, each candidate should be required to present the platform by speaking directly to the American public, on television, without interruption. If we’re clever, I’m sure we can come up with a web-based extension of the written and televised presentation. With this mechanism in place, I can easily research where each candidate stands on, say, Syria, or health care. Of course, the people ought to have some digital means of asking questions, and the candidates should provide some reasonable means of answering their questions.

Next up, let’s change our rules regarding the use of television advertising. Whether by law or by policy, candidates should be required to use their commercial airtime to explain their own views, and not to criticize or attack the other candidate (this higher standard should be applied to all elections, at least on television commercials where stations often set policies with regard to acceptable material).

With all of that in place, let’s rethink the debate. Running a grudge match is a waste of everybody’s time, and so is allowing candidates to drift from the questions to their own message points. Candidates are welcome to speechify, but that’s not the purpose of the debates. Instead, I would either eliminate the debates and replace them with one-on-one conversations with everyday people and vetted journalists, or reformat them entirely. Last night’s Bob Schieffer format stopped the candidates from moving around and nearly slugging one another. That’s a start. A quiet, reasoned conversation; mostly, closeups of each candidate so we can study their faces; a journalist who asks the questions and is not overwhelmed by the power of candidates to disobey the rules–this format provides a better opportunity to study the candidates and their presentations. And let’s not call it a debate, or think of it as debate, because we should discourage the unseemly role modeling by potential leaders of the free world. There should be no winner or loser. Instead, the debate ought to be a skillfully moderated conversation by people, each of who believes that he or she can successfully lead the nation and play a very significant role on the world stage. That’s enough for me.

But there’s a piece missing: verification of facts. I’m not very interested in what the network’s commentators have to say about who “won” because the debate should not be reduced to such simple-minded thinking. Instead, immediately following the debate, I’d like to see an intelligent, compelling presentation of what each candidate said, and whether it was factually correct, kinda hazy, or utter nonsense. If the candidates understood that they would be immediately followed by an independent fact-check seen on TV, they would be more likely to curb their fanciful interpretations of fact.

Do we need to see two presidential candidates “go at it” as if they were wrestlers? I think we can do a lot better, and I know we possess the tools and the need to approach the whole intersection between presidential candidates and media. But do we possess the will to shift the entire election process into the 21st century?


  1. This is a great idea, especially the fact checking. I would go further and say that fact checking should take place during the debate. If there were a team of people present with all the important information and resources, they could catch the candidates right away. Imagine if, when Mitt Romney said “I never said I would cut taxes by $5 billion!” they stopped the debate for a moment, did a little research, and told him “Mr. Romney, we have you on tape saying you planned a $5 billion tax cut fourteen times. Could you please address this.” Then we could all watch him squirm. I think you’ve hit the real problem on the head: the candidates know they can get away with lying.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Your article deserves two likes. Can I just add my two cents’ worth? It’s been my thought for some time that we should expect all politicians to attend an annual review where they show how productive and effective in their jobs they have been and list their accomplishments. Any pay rises and how high the raise, would be decided depending on the results. Our (Aus) politicians gave themselves two pay rises this year. It was approved by a supposedly independent bod,, but I’ve never heard of it refusing any request.

  3. Tae McNeelege says:

    Great stuff! I too am always puzzled when the media focuses on who was a better speaker instead of a well organized summary on what they said. I believe a majority of people would prefer to be informed about their choice rather than just feel secure about the candidate they are rooting for. Maybe the media does not think that is the majority. Regardless it makes me think traditional media is not very credible anymore.

  4. I look forward to seeing this new futuristic take on presidential “debates”. However, I fear it might be a little too grown-up for many candidates to achieve? 🙂

  5. I really like your idea of verifying facts after a debate, especially after watching the one last night where both candidates were claiming the other was a liar. I doubt too many people fact check on their own after a debate, so it would be quite useful to have that be part of the aftermath. We can’t have voters judging a candidate by what they say without knowing if it’s true or not, right?

  6. Interesting ideas. Maybe you should take it up with Congress, or try and start an organization or business that’ll bring all of these things to pass.

  7. How about we just sit the candidates down at a round table and let them all have at it? No moderators, no bullshit questions fed to selected audience members ahead of time, and we all just sit back for an hour watching them do what they all do best…run their mouths and feed endless lines of crap to each other.

  8. I can only agree with you on this. Right now, elections are ridiculos everywhere… Really nice article, too.

  9. robertsitalia says:

    Awesome post. I agree with you!

  10. Will Endeavor says:

    Bravo! Now how do we go about putting something like this into practice? The way our candidates currently campaign is downright embarrasing. We can do better.

  11. We should do away with the Super PACs. All the money these politicians get from the 1% influences on how they vote on everything. When elected, the politicians will be beholden to the Super PACs, and the 99% won’t have much of a say. Also, politicians should spend less time trying to get votes. The time should be limited to 6 months or less.

  12. Today, the media spins the facts to support their political agenda. I agree that it would be beneficial to have a reliable fact checker. Great idea.

  13. I can’t agree. The candidates have to fill out applications in most states, otherwise they can’t appear on the ballot.

    Debates are set up for competition. If the debates weren’t exciting, few people would interested; remember, we have a nation growing on up distractions everywhere and so-call ADD. The media loves to rile things up for more ratings, or charge more to advertisers.

    Criticism and attacks are different things. The former is constructive, the latter is immature. Certain attacks happen, it’s rare, but the media focuses on it because it’s what most people find exciting. Washington is boring; it’s a bureaucracy, like one giant accounting office. The only excitement arrives when politicians get TV time and say stupid stuff. Which is any time the press will get higher ratings.

    I wouldn’t change advertising laws on television. I prefer people stop watching T.V. for anything but news, sports, and movies. This relates to the mind numbing. Television does that: it’s passive entertainment. Combined with anger and you get a foul mix of confusion. These are opinions about facts, or opinions about opinions, which, in fact, doesn’t matter to most people. But, many people who spend their private lives staring at T.V., don’t have an exciting life to compare it to, and thus, get riled up about the arguments they see on T.V.

    The debate process is fine. If we want better debates, first we should become better people ourselves. This will give us a larger pool of better people to choose from. Doesn’t make much sense to put term limits, change the rules of debates, or anything for that matter, if the players are going to be the same anyway.

  14. Thank you..I feel exactly the same..the advertising is the worst. After 30 seconds of attacking another person’s beliefs…there is nothing? What are YOUR beliefs? Such a strange approach.

  15. Great ideas for sure.

  16. There is a benefit to a televised presidential debate. We get to see who lies the most and how big those WHOPPERS were. Without TV, we may not have an opportunity to keep score. :o)

  17. CNN did a really good follow up fact check today. It was quite entertaining because they had Obama saying during the debates “I never apologized for America” and then flashed several clips of him apologizing. CNN is typically pretty fair with their responses (as we all know how the media chooses a side to make look flawless and portrays the other as evil).

  18. I like the heart of this post, but I think your recommendations a heavy lift. Pronouncements are one thing, administrative policies another. For instance, a highly educated folk may be the end, but the means, in doing so, will always be subjective. As for verifying facts during a discussion-debate… consider the US bailout of it’s automotive industry. Was there private capital at the time to reboot, if all went belly up. Didn’t feel that way at the time. But who knows. Risk and reward and the trump of culture.

    The problem with politics is that it’s personal and visceral and it all goes to hell if you don’t consider it a commodity in flux. It’s an exchange in real time. To go to your level of codifying, may make change stale, and any tidbit of reform… revolutionary.

    Thanks, I enjoyed this post.

  19. Kenton Lewis says:
  20. I agree, this can be handled more productively, at the very least! Such an awful process as it is.

  21. Yes these debates are Ridiculous. I think most people have made up their minds before thse debates. Time will tell when we vote!

  22. You’ve missed the biggest way to modernize the debates – bring in all the candidates on the ballots. Until that’s done, we’re only hearing two (substantially identical) views anyway.

  23. Thank you!

    But now we need to get the biase- I MEAN totally objective media to comply.

  24. Yikes. So great, thank you, it puts a smile on my face to know there are Americans who “get it” I posted this tonight…

  25. I love this post..if only African presidential candidates would take it that would be the day..well done!!

  26. According to my dictionary, “debate” means “to argue” or “an argument,” which encourages our candidates to prepare zingers and zippy one-liners over sound plans of action. Heck, I’d probably get more out of a presidential “talent show” or “cookie exchange” versus all their “talk-to-the-hand” business.

    Thanks for your post. Along with you, I cast my vote for common sense.

  27. I agree completely. If only the news media cared about the issues and talked about the lies both candidates get away with instead of talking about their body language and confidence levels. The main question they’ve been asking this year is basically “How well did they lie?”

  28. I agree. We argue endlessly over who “won” and who lost, but who really loses? US. We get stump speeches and misrepresentations and corrections and then the pundits talk about body language and justify their personal politics with assessments of manliness and passivity. It’s a performance — in the end. The interpretations and values projected on that performance are also about archetypes. I’ve written a lot about the way the warrior and the sage stories are battling in our culture, through my blog. Lots of fodder for writing in those rockemsockemrobot public displays! I agree with you — I wish they worked better. Love your ideas about clarifying the information and preparation.

  29. Great topic, well done for raising it. But I challenge you to follow your thought process even further. If we can analyse and vote for parties and people online, then why can’t we just vote for policies and plans of action online? voting for a person that is under no legal obligation to do what they said they will is ridiculous in the first place.
    It could just work like this.
    Vote for improved educational curriculum>sciences>evolution classes
    If more than 50% of people vote for it, the next stage is entered, people scan for suitable people with the technical skills to apply the changes to the system. the majority voter wins the honour of serving society. He is paid average wage so that only people who truly care about society will put themselves forward for the position. Every 1 or 2 months comes an interim inspection, where people can discuss the progress of the person who has been given the task. They can vote for various alterations of the persons plan of action. Or they can vote for someone else to do it.
    This is what an actual participatory democracy looks like, based on our level of awareness and technology today.

    Just voting for some random millionaire nobody’s ever heard of who can do whatever they want is an insult even to representative democracy and an insult to humanity.

  30. Great and practical thinking, we need to bring back dignity to the election and its process…I took a very different view of improving debates on my blog brain4rent that included lie detectors and iPads and electric dog collars

  31. The title drew me in! haha I keep staying up late to catch every ounce of the debates then I regret it…wonderful post! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

  32. Reblogged this on stephenfranano.

  33. What I wanted to say. What I couldn’t be quite bothered to articulate. But you are so RIGHT about the verification of facts. Carefully trying to not hint at my political bias, but the idea Romney can talk about supporting Israel diplomatically and culturally without explaining how exactly he will do that is absurd. Just as speaking of a ‘better’ nation, going after the bad guys and other such nonsense. I’m ranting now. But you’re absolutely right- the facts that the average person does not have time to check against record or the expertise to decipher should be chucked to a Javanese snapping journalist or hard headed actuarial accountant.

  34. Can we keep it simple and just have the candidates armwrestle. I believe that to be an upgrade over the debates…Pay per view of course. Seriously, nice, intutitve post!

  35. James R. Clawson says:

    Living in the country that we live in gives us freedoms that no other nation is able to experience. Our founding fathers were able to establish these freedoms due to hard work and accountability. It’s unfortunate that some of our leaders have taken these freedoms for granted and act like we owe them something. We don’t owe any of our leaders anything. They need to be more humble, grateful and accountable to what they have done and where they are taking us. This election should be a no brainer. Where have we been this past 4 years and where does it look like we are headed?

  36. It’s interesting to imagine how the dynamic of the debates (particularly the second debate where the candidates appeared to be trying to out-bully each other) would be different if one of the candidates were a woman. It wouldn’t look very good to have the male candidate yelling at the female one, now would it? It’s time to change the format because we are finally getting closer to the possibility of actually have a female candidate in the running. (One can hope, anyway.)

  37. Reblogged this on THE SKEW IN THE NEWS and commented:
    Great post Howard Blumenthal. When you write “Whether by law or by policy, candidates should be required to use their commercial airtime to explain their own views, and not to criticize or attack the other candidate…” shows insight on the role debates have been taking. This post will help my audience understand why the media is bias when they are talking about the two candidates. It feels like they are waiting for one of them to throw out a gaffe or a zinger. By mentioning changing the laws it will give the viewers and readers an understanding why the media likes the debates.

  38. Right on!

  39. I am 100% in agreement with you. I too believe they candidates are wasting our time with arguing and essentially calling each other liars for hours. I believe it should be set up like anyone else who is trying to get a job. You need to come in with a presentation on what you plan to do and be able to back it up with clear data (ACTUAL numbers). As to the TV advertising they would do themselves a favor if they focused on a more intellectual approach like you suggested because as of now I am muting them every time they are on. Obama himself said he was sick of hearing “I am Obama and I approve this message.”

  40. Politics is ridiculous. Let’s move on. As much as people complain about the simplistic nature of the practice of politics and debate, people are swayed by it. They’re swayed by it because there aren’t enough hours in the day to give thoughtful consideration to the vast majority of what we hear, so we resort to heuristics.

  41. Thank you! I believe the same thing with advertising… It’s now a competition of who can throw the bigger punch. Everyone shut up and tell us what you’re going to do. I also believe that there needs to be an un-bias data base with every little thing you need to know about each candidate. which would be a difficult task, but it would be helpful.

  42. Wow, excellent article. I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s ridiculous that the debates are so tightly moderated, only 90 minutes long, and only 2 minutes per response. This is really important stuff and we as citizens need to know what we’re voting on… each candidate should be given several hours to describe their plans and ideas. It’s a shame that all the misinformation and ambiguity out there is not cleared up for our good as a nation… and therefore we have more citizens voting for American Idol contestants than in presidential elections….

  43. Brilliant concept! I haven’t watched any of the debates because they really don’t help me to understand what to expect from either candidate. I’ve had to rely on my own dependent research and do my own fact checking and it has been a lot of work. Maybe that is why so many like me are still undecided. I love the idea consulting the intelligence of the people rather than relying on who can dazzle us the most. Putting this into platforms on the net…your idea just get better and better.

  44. Yes I agree we have sunk to a all time LOW in the USA. However, I love people who ONLY point at wrong facts against the political candidate they are not voting for …so I guess I could say to Obama as a commentator when Obama lied about the LIVE tapes in Lybia ” STOP Mr. President lets play the tape you watch LIVE while it was being attack.” So lets all play fair if we are going down this route with “fact checking.” I for one don’t stand for ANY American’s being killed so senseless and avoidable. I love the ideal of popping candidates right when dishonesty occurs, but not one sided!

  45. John Blair says:

    Like you, I had been thinking – we’ve entered the post-debate era. The candidates, handlers, advisers, handicappers and other hangers on – have outsmarted the format…it serves no purpose in its present form. My suggestions for the future are not as fully formed as yours. I’ve only gotten as far as concluding that Samuel L. Jackson should be added to each debate – with the ability to yell “BULLSHIT! That’s not an answer motherfucker! Let’s try again!” anytime he feels it is appropriate.
    The idea is still rough. Possibly there are some flaws.

  46. “But there’s a piece missing: verification of facts. I’m not very interested in what the network’s commentators have to say about who “won” because the debate should not be reduced to such simple-minded thinking.”

    This is so spot on. I’m sold on this idea because it’s devolved into something totally ridiculous. At the very least, I would like to see more “news” commentators discuss the talking points with actual information and demand a little accountability. I really couldn’t care less who made what faces, I just want a legitimate discussion based on actual facts. There are an alarmingly few number of places that I can go offline to get that– we all deserve better than that.

    I had no idea you had a blog. I’ve enjoyed your articles for years and “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” was five seasons of the highest quality programing. The show remains peerless in the sheer amount of information presented in every episode and may have been the only program that I was ever fully engrossed in as a child.

  47. nathanielsykes19 says:

    I don’t think debates are rediculous! We’d have to debate that.

  48. As you know each channel’s pundit does their own fact checking. What’s interesting is the veracity of their view, be it the left or the right. Unfortunately, even fact checking would have to be debated–for as you know CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC are all the PR arm of the White House and if you say they aren’t–you’re a fool.

  49. debates give the candidates the opportunity and the responsibility to defend their ‘propaganda’ and have it weighed by their opponent, objective truth, and the public who needs to be able to see the differences without the unchallenged ‘spin’.

  50. Reblogged this on ohmtone's Blog and commented:
    I love common sense. It would be wonderful if the candidates and the media acted as if the majority of America’s citizens have active brain cells.

Please Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: