Could debates be even more boring? Try this
Dan Flannery of the Appleton Post Crescent is amused that all of the candidates for governor, including the one who wasn't invited, declared victory after Friday night's debate.
But then he turns serious and offers some ways to "fix" our campaigns, including:
...Don't allow any candidate to discuss another candidate's record, philosophy or statements. Don't allow any candidate to acknowledge other candidates are in the room or even in the campaign.I don't think it matters much if they sit or stand, speak or yodel. Partly, the television stations are trying to make it interesting enough to keep people watching. Friday night's format could not have been duller. But that's minor. Flannery says they shouldn't even be called debates, and under his rules they wouldn't be.
-- Don't allow candidates to see each other on stage, or in TV monitors. Candidates need to focus on you and me. Not each other.
-- Each candidate must limit comments to his/her agenda, and tell us what he/she would like to do in office. And stick to matters of public policy.
It would be fair game to discuss statistics, to support a candidate's policy initiatives or a call for change in whatever area. But the past is the past, and cannot be changed.
In these forums, candidates need to talk about the future, and about their philosophies.
If we face problems caused by an incumbent's decisions, criticizing those decisions is moot. Tell us how you'll fix it.
-- None of this walking-around-with-the-microphone stuff. It's not a talk show, and it's not important how comfortable a candidate is on a stage. We're not auditioning for an on-air gig. We're listening to how well our candidates can think.
Stand behind a podium or sit at a desk, and impress us with your mind...
The other "fixes" are more problematic.
Campaigns are about drawing distinctions between candidates. That's how voters make up their minds. They compare the candidates and make a judgment about which one best represents their way of thinking, which one is most likely to do what they would do.
In making that judgment, what a candidate has done in the past is clearly relevant. To say the past is out of bounds is to ask voters to compare the candidates on who can make the best and the most promises, who can paint the prettiest picture.
Are voters to pretend these candidates just materialized on the scene, out of thin air? Wouldn't that be nice? No baggage. Everyone starts equal.
Those are the rules that allow a Mark Green to say he will promote stem cell research, when his record is just the opposite. When he says he'll be a tight-fisted budgeter and get the state's finances in order, is it relevant to point out that he has voted for the biggest deficits in history? Of course it is.
Flannery might argue that there are plenty of other ways for people to find out the negative information about the candidates. And there certainly are. But there is nothing more effective at keeping a candidate honest than knowing his/her opponent is standing right there, ready to point out the exaggerations or falsehoods.
To suggest that the candidates should not be able to criticize one another, or point out when their opponents are stretching the truth or contradicting the facts, is to fundamentally misunderstand how campaigns work. Voters need that information to make an informed decision. It can't all be pie in the sky; some truth-telling, even if unpleasant, is required.
By eliminating the clashes, Flannery's format also would guarantee the most boring political programming in history. And that's saying a lot.