They say America has a vigorous democratic system.
We hold elections.
We have a free press.
We see elected leaders go to town halls.
And if you want to be president, you have to do a few debates.
A debate sounds like an argument…
And in theory, it is one.
But presidential debates aren’t really arguments.
They’re just a series of short speeches.
Each candidate tries to pick apart the other guy…
Each candidate tries to offend the fewest people…
But in the end, you never hear a candidate deviate from their talking points.
You never hear a candidate say: “I guess you’re right about that one.”
Debates are not held so that candidates come to agreement.
That’s not the point!
The people who put on debates – the media – don’t want the candidates to agree…
They want a good brawl!
They want dramatic, unscripted moments!
It makes for better TV. Better ratings.
But not a better country.
Look, I’m not saying we need a kumbaya “let’s all get along” session with the candidates.
The reason we have elections is because we have to hold our political leaders accountable.
And give new ideas a hearing.
And if those new ideas prove to be unconvincing, well, that’s why presidents get re-elected.
But can’t debates do more than merely reinforce what we already know about the candidates?
Why don’t we have debates which are real debates?
In a classic debate, the participants have to prepare to argue both sides of the same issue. Then, right before the debate… they are told to stick to one side or the other.
Pro-death penalty, or anti… you prepare to argue either case. On Monday, you argue pro. On Tuesday, you argue anti.
Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if we had the candidates – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – prepare to argue both sides of the same issue?
The federal government is too big – agree or disagree?
“President Obama, you have to argue that it’s too big tonight. Let’s see how you do with that one.”
“Governor Romney, you get to argue that it’s too small. Have fun!”
Wouldn’t that be something?
You’d have political leaders take positions with which they disagree… and do their best job explaining themselves.
It would be revealing.
For one thing, it would tell us whether a candidate has a brain in their head.
It’s easy to memorize what someone tells you to say. It’s hard to make a compelling case against those things you believe already.
You have to have an imagination. You have to think quickly. You have to know the facts – and understand that the facts can be interpreted in many different ways.
You can’t present the argument of the other side as an absurd straw man – easily knocked down by the first puff of wind.
You have to respect both sides of an issue. It takes maturity.
You might even learn to question those principles you hold dear.
Sure, a debate like that might test our candidates more on their logic and arguing skills than their beliefs, but we don’t need a debate to know what the candidates say they believe.
They put out position papers. Their parties write platforms – or re-write them, as the case may be.
Debates aren’t there so people can find out what candidates BELIEVE.
They’re held so we can see whether candidates can handle the PRESSURE.
Debates are about the theater, right?
They’re about whether these candidates can think on their feet… can deliver a good line without a teleprompter… can out-maneuver their opponent… can handle criticism with grace.
So… why not switch roles and positions, just to make things interesting?
At the very least, it would be better than what we have now.
It would give us a window into the way our presidential candidates think through problems…
And whether they even understand the issues they talk about.
You’d certainly get us some dramatic moments.
What if Mitt Romney had to defend Obamacare?
What if Obama had to attack it?
What if the candidates were asked whether the US should stay and fight in Afghanistan until the Taliban were defeated?
I’m not even sure what the candidates actually believe on this issue, so it might be good to just assign them a position and see how they do with it.
We could do something even more dramatic. We could ask the candidates to edit each other’s answer!
Let’s say they ask President Obama: “What does America owe its citizens?”
He’ll give his answer.
And rather than Romney giving his own view to the same question, what if he tried to give Obama’s answer, but in a more convincing way?
It would be quite a test. Because we would be able to tell, right away, whether a candidate can see the world through someone else’s eyes. Do they have a better vision to achieve the same goal?
My point is that we need to get the candidates to address the issues, and take a stand.
No more splitting the middle.
No more mixed signals.
No more mushy, focus grouped language.
I’ll tell you one thing: It would be a lot easier to decide who “won” a debate. You won’t need some media talking head to tell us that Candidate X had a better answer on Social Security.
You’d know it right away. You’d see it right away.
Look: This office is occupied by people for four years. The issues of 2012 aren’t necessarily going to be the issues of 2016.
The world will have new crises. Our economy will look differently. The president, whoever he is, will be tested in new ways.
If there’s one thing we know about the Presidency, it’s this: You can’t predict what issues a president will face.
But you should be able to predict how he’ll face them.
Today’s debates don’t do a very good job of helping us make that prediction.
We could do it better… maybe one day, they’ll try a new approach.
Thanks for watching.
God bless you, and may God bless the Republic.