If there’s one thing that’s not up for debate in this presidential campaign, it’s the debates themselves – they stink.
None of the formats presented to the American electorate so far has given us an illuminating look at the candidates. President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan have gotten lost in a sea of growly blather.
The first debate was framed by the traditional television template for such events. Each candidate stood at a podium and responded vaguely to open-ended questions from PBS’ Jim Lehrer.
The veteran journalist, who is very even-handed and knowledgeable, was not well-served by the format, and he didn’t administrate it very well. With all the overlapping dialogue, I felt I was watching a Robert Altman movie with a lousy script and an even lousier set design.
I don’t like to watch a discussion in which the participants sound either desperately aggressive or desperately defensive.
Obama and Romney should not sound desperate at all. We don’t want to elect a desperate leader.
When Obama and Romney squared off for the second time, the public asked the questions. At least the candidates had an opportunity to wander about the stage and look the people in the eye. But they still tried to run over each other’s rhetoric like bitterly divided family members on Dr. Phil’s syndicated yakfest.
Speaking of syndicated yakfests, CNN’s Candy Crowley did her best Phil Donahue impression, weaving throughout the audience with wireless mike in hand. She partially reined in Romney and Obama by implying, truthfully and quite often, that they were limiting the public’s question time.
(By the way, in the future, I fully expect television to use slow motion, stop action and isolation camera angles. If the weather is good at the venues, perhaps the candidates will debate outdoors and have the Met Life blimp, Snoopy II, hovering overhead. Supporters of each candidate can take off their shirts and paint campaign slogans on their chests.)
The vice presidential debate placed Biden and Ryan at a table with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, who received mostly kudos from everyone except partisan Republicans. Her close physical proximity to both candidates made for better optics and seemed to help her stifle some of the aural diarrhea, especially when she asked, “Are you embarrassed by the tone of this election?”
Maybe we should have reporters like Raddatz, who has experience as a war correspondent, moderate all these talkathons. Time spent among soldiers in the thick of battle seems to be helpful.
What might be more helpful is doing away with the Commission on Presidential Debates. The commission co-chairs are Frank Fahrenkopf, a former GOP chairman who lobbies for the gaming industry, and Mike McCurry, a former Clinton Administration press secretary who now lobbies for telecom companies.
The corporate sponsors underwriting the cost of the debates include Anheuser-Busch. In the past, corporate sponsors have included AT&T, Philip Morris and J.P. Morgan.
Bring back the League of Women Voters.