Monday, June 04, 2007

Debating the Debate

Thanks to Dick Cheney, this is one of the most unusual presidential election seasons we have ever witnessed. It isn’t often a sitting vice-president leaves office with no ambition to run for the top job.

So we end up with eighteen or twenty Democrats and Republicans tossing their political hats into the ring nearly two years before the presidential election will even be held. I mean, think about it, we are in the spring of 2007 and the debate season has already kicked off. Are you looking forward to seventeen more months of televised debates?

And aren’t debates sort of old news anyway? Since the presidential elections of the 19th century, debates have changed very little in substance. Sure, we have the media frenzy, cameras pointed at the candidates to record every raised eyebrow and each head shake, the morning after criticism of every word uttered. But it’s still a sales job, same as it always has been.

Each candidate uses all the rhetoric and puffery necessary to convince us they are the right person for the job while simultaneously staying as close as possible to their core beliefs, and while convincing us that their counterparts are mere show ponies.

I can’t argue that being president doesn’t require a certain amount of finesse and salesmanship, but wouldn’t it be better to see that than to just hear about it? Besides, what kind of debate can we really be having by lining up eight or ten candidates on a stage?

I think it’s time for something completely different.

Why not have two envelopes for each candidate. One is labeled “Domestic Policy” and the other, “Foreign Policy.” No one knows the contents of any envelope except for the handful of people who devised them (and they are locked away in a sound-proof room until Election Day – sorry guys).

Live and televised on the air, a candidate is handed one of the two envelopes. He or she unseals the package and reads the contents. Now realize, neither the candidates nor any of us in the audience knows what the message says until the moment it is opened. Inside is a weighty, real life problem scenario of immense importance. Like, Iran blasts a nuclear missile into the Mediterranean, or gasoline prices surge and the economy is at risk of a meltdown.

The candidate now has twenty-four hours to solve the issue at hand, or at least come up with a workable action plan to get the problem resolved.

The candidate can bring in any advisor he or she would normally have appointed if that candidate were actually the president. Consult, debate, use charts – whatever. Just solve the problem.

Oh, and the entire twenty-four hour period is televised so we get to see everything.

Kind of a cross between “Survivor” and “24” except without jungles, Jack Bauer or commercial interruptions. Each person who wants to be elected president has to work through one critical domestic issue and one equally critical foreign policy issue. What better way to see the candidates acting as president than to let them, well, act as presidents. For a couple of days anyway. Then we decide who gets the job for real. After all, it’s a four year commitment we voters are making. Shouldn’t we get a chance to take our pres for a test drive? I wouldn’t mind kicking the tires of a few candidates.

Go ahead and have a debate or two so voters can determine if a favorite candidate has the chops to hang in there with political savvy. After that, it’s the ultimate in reality television.