In the hours before the last three Democratic debates, I have inevitably received a text message from a friend asking me for my thoughts. They ask me what topics and issues might be discussed and who will have the strongest performance. I simply reply with, “I don’t care.”
This may seem callous to the casual observer or an indicator that my vote is spoken for already. The simple truth is that I do not care about debates, regardless of the candidates or the intentions of the moderators, the topics or the possible questions. The reality of political debates is that they are a worthless endeavor to drive television ratings and pick out some soundbites to run on for a week. I am not conceited when I say that they are not worth my time. I do not think they are worth anyone’s time.
Modern Debate Rules
With ten candidates on the stage the other night, the rules were fairly straightforward. Candidates would be given one minute and fifteen seconds for an answer to a direct question and forty-five seconds for a rebuttal. With ten candidates on stage, it has been somewhat difficult to corral everyone vying for speaking time, turning grown men and women, who are seeking the highest office in the land, into children reaching for the last cookie on the counter.
Like most elections, 2020 is filled to the brim with issues, many of which have been created by the candidates themselves. Immigration, guns, minimum wage, national security, endless wars, $22 Trillion in national debt (of which we do not speak), and the War on Drugs are all issues that need to be addressed. But these are not issues that can be compressed into mindless elevator pitches that contain no substance. Herein lies my antipathy for these infomercials of the damned.
Romans and Americans
A point in human history that would benefit Americans, and all of humanity, is the Roman Republic. Renowned for its measure of civics and civility within the Senate, Ancient Rome came to define the political process. Its strict rules and lengthy debates would leave an American politician feckless and shaking.
Sessions would begin at dawn and members of the Senate could be disciplined for failing to arrive, short of a valid reason. Debates could take all day, focusing on single issues, and every Senator spoke before a vote was taken. A day spent watching C-SPAN (god help you) would leave a person longing for the days when American representatives participated fully in floor debates, assuming, of course, that they attend at all. The traditions upon which we based our Republic have been lost in the annals of history.
A Better Way
Every political drama brings up the idea of a “real debate,” with the fictitious candidates bemoaning the rules and structure as if they were intentionally designed to prevent candidates from burning brain cells while trying to actually answer questions. But, much to the chagrin of these characters, the debates remain the same.
Each issue that America faces deserves genuine attention and all sides need to be presented and scrutinized. Aside from allowing third parties to participate, the format needs to be changed. Have a debate on one issue at a time and have it begin in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday. And have that debate go long into the night. Line up experts and scholars to ask questions, cross-examine candidates and demand real answers, coupled with full explanations. The debate ends when the candidates collapse, or the moderators and public are satisfied.
I have been accused of being an idealist, which confuses me as I do not see what is wrong with having such a mentality. I understand that the system we live under does not work within the rules that I, the nation, or the Constitution impose upon it. And yet, I trudge on towards the horizon.
While most would not tune in to such a debate, I certainly would, as would many others, and America would be better for it. But until the ghosts of Cato and Cicero appear before the DNC and RNC, rattling chains like Jacob Marley and calling them feckless and inept, I won’t hold my breath.