Image via WikipediaThe other night I had to watch that terrible, terrible Republican debate on CNN. In between Tim Pawlenty's impersonation of a bad John Edwards, and John King's disturbing grunting when a candidate went over time (What's wrong with just interrupting them, John? You are the moderator!) there were a few "arguments" made now and again. They were not good. Why?
It's always the same reason - this was not a debate. This was the argumentative version of speed-dating.
You got just enough time with each candidate to determine if you wanted to go to their website and read more. That was it. There were some arguments made by various candidates, here and there, but no debate was present.
In order to have a debate, one needs the following:
1. Agreement on a clear topic that can either be supported or rejected.
2. Agreement on who will represent each side of the topic.
3. Clash - One must advocate, and respond to advocacy
4. Equal Time - Each participant must have an equal amount of time to establish and refute arguments.
5. Judgement - Some decision should be rendered, even if it is by private ballot by the audience.
The Republican debate did not have any - not one - of these elements. And I wonder how many political debates do.
Will America ever see an actual debate during a Presidential campaign? We came close when the League of Women Voters used to control the Presidential Debates. But those times are long gone, stolen away by the Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.
The CNN debate was run by a for-profit news agency - a corporation - so it was designed to be watchable and entertaining in so far as it was also designed to be relevant to the campaign.
Eventually we need more than speed dating. What the official Presidential debates give us is not much better.