Before leaving the first debate analysis and intrigue, it is worth discussing doing away with the one aspect of presidential debates that always gets more press than it should in an ideal world: the moderator. As usual, at the first debate of the final stretch in 2016, Lester Holt, the moderator, got in the way. He was not even keeled by any stretch of the imagination. That is being talked about every which way – including accusations that the questions were given to Mrs. Clinton ahead of time.
(That would explain scripted answers to what were supposed to be surprise questions.)
Really, what would be the format, then, if there was no moderator? Well, this writer has an idea. Back when Ronald Reagan was president, and the conservative movement was just getting its act together, I attended an all girls high school where the subject of English was taught almost exclusively by sisters. (Not nuns. Nuns are cloistered. These were the more modernized, liberal sorts.) One of the features of the curriculum there was the art of the essay. We wrote essays for everything. Even tests. For semester exams in American Literature, Sister M.B. gave us three questions, asked us to write an “outline” of how we would answer one of the question to bring to the exam, and we sat and wrote for two hours. (Essentially, the outline was a draft, and you just copied it. Yes, we were also graded on writing style.) Essay questions were a normal part of life, and my sophomore biology final – almost three pages following a cookie through the digestive system – was proof that memorization is not that hard.
Why not, rather than surprising the candidates, give them six topics, have them prepare a two-three minute elevator pitch, and let ’em go for ten? Have a small panel with buzzers and a bell, just like Family Feud, and if they get off topic they get buzzed with a bell at the end of the round. No referee. No rescues. No steering the conversation. Just letting the points flow.
The we would find out who really knows their stuff, and who is just regurgitating what was prepared for them.
Never mind. It would never work. Too honest for your average politician.