Suggestions on improving presidential debates
Rich Gardner | 10.14.2012
Lawrence O'Donnell talks about how presidential debates can be improved. He speaks with the knowledge of an insider, having both written scripts for The West Wing and having been a Senate staffer.
O'Donnell recommends that instead of having the two candidates alone up on the stage with no notes, allow them to have written materials that they can refer to as opposed to having to try and memorize everything. Heck, they should be allowed to have a staff member at their side to slip them useful, relevant info as the debate proceeds. The Senate does that all the time and the staff members have gotten very good at being unobtrusive. Not sure about his suggestion that the candidates be permitted to show slideshows. O'Donnell asks if candidates should get the questions in advance. As it might make for better, more carefully thought-out answers, he figures that would be okay as well. His logic is that presidents are never called upon to think quickly on their feet anyway. What we want is for them to make the best decision, not to just give us the first thought off the tops of their heads. Why do we demand that candidates be able to think quickly? In real life, presidents can listen to a presentation, say to the presenter "Thanks, you've given me food for thought. I'll get back to you on that," and people think that answer is fine.
Very frequently, The Village press corps insta-judges a candidate by their sighs or by how broadly and frequently they smile or some other stupid, irrelevant bullshit. They're not making political criticism, but theater criticism! What they should be judging is how good the answers are. VP candidate Paul Ryan shouldn't be judged by how flustered he seemed or by how often he drank water during his debate, but by the number of lies he told. The blogger Imani Gandy argues very persuasively that Ryan's statement, that he and his running mate Mitt Romney will respect a woman's right to abort a pregnancy if she has been raped or if her life is in danger, is a complete and utter lie. Both candidates, and the Republican Party as a whole, have endorsed a "personhood" amendment that says women can't have abortions ever, in any event, under any circumstances whatsoever, period! That should be the subject of heated debate, not whether Joe Biden laughed too much!
O'Donnell advocates rewarding careful, deliberate decision-making, "We're not electing a debater-in-chief, we're electing a Commander-in-Chief!" I've pulled out these examples before, but I still think they're good ones. Both Cracked and Mad Magazines have done movie parodies for many, many years. I noticed back in the 70s that Cracked usually came out with a parody a few weeks earlier than Mad did, but that Mad usually came out with a better one, a funnier and more thoughtful one, later on. I completely endorse O'Donnell's idea that the presidential candidates should be judged by the quality of the answers they give, not by the speed with which they can think an answer up, the theatricality of their answers or by the wisecracks they deliver while doing so. Yeah, let's get rid of the clocks and give the candidates time to really research their answers and to give thoughtful, careful ones.