After two hours of red carpet coverage, Billy Crystal would serve as moderator. He’d soft-toss questions to President Obama and Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney that have nothing to do with politics and make jokes that weren’t well suited for the ‘90s, much less 2012.
He’d ask, “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” and “If you could rub a genie bottle and have whatever you wanted, what would you ask for?”
The responses would be as vague as they were Wednesday night, and it would be okay.
A super-American musician like Bruce Springsteen would serve as the house band, punctuating particularly meaningless points in the conversation and playing the National Anthem in-between questions.
The candidates wouldn’t be held to any sort of fact-based standard — not that they really are at the moment — and the entire charade could be billed as entertainment.
In essence, it would be a hybrid created from the Oscars and the Miss America Pageant, complete with the formal wear and bikini rounds.
The idea is absurd, but it makes more sense than watching two candidates spin statistics, speak in vagaries and attack each other verbally, especially considering that the debates rarely accomplish anything other than to convince the public that our politicians are afraid to discuss important issues.
Wednesday night’s Denver debate was hard to watch, but it wasn’t just because Romney couldn’t temper his smug smile, Obama seemed genuinely disinterested, Jim Lehrer was a paper weight and the evening’s highlight was a reference to Big Bird. No, it was hard to watch because the debates’ current format renders them frustratingly meaningless.
As U.S. consumers of media, we’re conditioned to viewing high-speed car chases, “Jersey Shore,” sensationalized news programming and fast-moving athletics. Our habits don’t condition us for 90 minutes of well-spun political fluff. Add to it that our current president seemed to be mentally lost on Wednesday, and what resulted was an hour-and-a-half of time wasted.
If the candidates were willing to directly answer questions, put forth real statistics and recede from their party’s talking points, the events would be more tolerable and (importantly) truly informative.
Until that happens, though, the best option is to let the presidential debates degrade into an entertainment circus or reform the format to allow more candidates and enforce deeper discussion.
It’s not that American’s won’t watch 90 minutes of a meaningful debate; we will. According to politicker.com (who reference Nielsen TV ratings), 40 million people tuned in to watch the debate on broadcast channels (which excludes cable networks such as MSNBC and Fox News). Clearly the American people care, but overall reactions to last night’s debate — as gleaned from other media coverage and personal interactions — have been decidedly negative.
It’s that the candidates (and their parties) are afraid to cut through their meticulously crafted talking points and get specific on how to solve this country’s problems, and the American public isn’t so dumb that we don’t realize what we’re hearing are half-truths.
As Kevin Jensen, the Collegian’s opinion editor, pointed out in his column earlier this week, the current system for presidential debates is all-but-rigged to restrict third party participants thanks to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Adding a third-party candidate and holding debate participants accountable for their answers would restore respectability and solve most of the current problems associated with presidential debates.
But if the CPD isn’t willing to do that, then it might be time to phone Crystal and break out the penguin suits, because I’d rather watch Romney and Obama talk about world peace in bikinis than sit through another debate similar to Wednesday’s.