Saturday, August 11, 2007

Focusing the Debates

The early presidential debates allowed the candidates on both sides to generalize and spout their practiced canned speeches. The You Tube debate was the first to get questions about the day to day, what really matters, issues for the 95% of the country who really don't care about the games the "inside the beltway" folks play. Interesting to hear that the Republicans are backing out of their You Tube - sure, some of the questions were off the wall, but then some of the voting populace are off the wall, or young, or technologically savvy, etc.

Focused debates sponsored by different special interest groups can be very revealing. Will the candidates simply pander to the audience? Or will they at least attempt to address the issues even if doing so doesn't give the questioners/audience what they want to hear. A little honesty would be nice, though pandering will probably rule the day.

The Univision debate is interesting in its own right because of the decision to do it in Spanish. Certainly you need to have enough of a command of English to work the voting machine, but most new immigrant's understanding is usually best in their native language (this has always been the case for 1st generation immigrants, with 2nd and 3rd generations becoming more English-speaking). It makes sense to discuss difficult issues in the language they can understand. While I don't expect to see similar debates in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Swahili and even Canadian (eh), it could be done if the need is there. The goal is to educate and communicate in the manner best understood.

As I've said before, I would really like to see focused debates, each dealing with a particular issue (e.g., Iraq, or perhaps more broadly, national security; Social Security - keep it, fix it, or dump it; Infrastructure improvement - the need, the path forward; etc.). Don't let each candidate give their canned responses...require details and follow ups. Stimulate them to argue with each other and give actual pros and cons of various proposals. I'm even for co-party debates where Republicans and Democrats are on the same stage presenting and defending their proposals. Likewise, don't allow the media to give 10-second "quotes" that supposedly represent the candidates' entire philosophy or program proposal. Make sure the breadth of the discussion is communicated so the one or two liners they practice in advance look as meaningless as they are.