October 21, 2012

Getting the final word on debates


---- — As a country we just watched, with rapt attention, a second presidential debate. The third and final debate will be held Monday.

I just wish we had more.

If I was given the ability to shape our nation’s system of elections and campaigning, I would ban the billions of dollars of political advertising that we have to endure every four years — take that money and put it to good use, feeding the hungry, giving healthcare to the poor, buying electronic textbooks for every student.

Advertising is by far the most prevalent way for politicians to influence voters, and for the most part — in addition to being insanely annoying — it’s tragically misleading.

Instead of endless commercials, I would schedule more debates. Lots and lots of debates, all the time, on every possible topic. Make candidates actually talk about the issues, to each other, on the record, without rehearsal or retakes or post-production editing. For everyone to see.

The only problem with my plan, as far as I can see, is that, while we can guarantee almost everyone in the country will see a political ad crammed into an “American Idol” commercial break, we can’t promise that every American will tune in to watch a debate.

Having watched every minute of the previous debates, I have to admit that, despite their obvious value, as far as reality television goes, debates can be a little dry. We’re not talking “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

If we’re going to have constant debates, we’ll have to mix up the formats to keep them fresh and interesting.

I, for one, would be fascinated by a completely virtual debate. Each candidate is given nothing but an iPhone, and for 90 minutes, all questions are asked and answered on Twitter, limited to 140 characters. #Awesome.

Candidates won’t be given time to drill and prepare for any specific event. They’ll be put on notice that at any time they can be whisked off the street, blindfolded and taken to a dark studio to face off.

Perhaps we could even take cues from other popular reality television shows.

For instance: the two candidates are dropped on a desert island with one bottle of Evian and a Swiss army knife. With no help from the outside world, they have to fashion a power suit from materials found on the island, then sit in the burning sun and answer questions about global warming. The loser has to eat a bug.

At another debate, the candidates have to answer all questions in the form of a song. It could even be a series of themed debates — one night it’s rap, the next night it’s country, the next night it’s power ballads, with the candidates accompanying on air guitar.

Another time the candidates could swap wives for a week. Michelle Obama will scold Mitt Romney for not clearing the breakfast dishes and will arm wrestle Romney’s sons. Ann Romney will iron Barack’s clothes and show Malia how to behave at a cotillion. At week’s end, the two would-be presidents discuss what they have learned.

Throw both candidates in the back of a New York cab and subject them to an hour of questioning from an illegal Pakistani immigrant driver.

The two candidates each try to build a successful business in 60 minutes, while Donald Trump looks on, offering sage advice and asking questions about tax policy.

How about we put the candidates in a fully stocked kitchen, tasked with recreating the last meal they cooked for their family, while simultaneously taking questions on social policy from the audience?

In one debate, the candidates will put on their dancing shoes and perform the tango, foxtrot and the Lindy Hop — with each other — while discussing foreign policy. Per tradition, the incumbent gets to lead.

We could try having one debate that’s moderated by a New Jersey medium, who asks the candidates questions from dead people.

Some debates could be like game shows. Answer every question in the form of a question (“What is the Treaty of Versailles, Alex”). Let all the questions be determined by the spin of a giant wheel.

Others could be like sporting events. Cheerleaders, instant replays, timeouts to stop the other guy’s momentum. There will be play-by-play announcers, and when the candidates make a mistake or tell an untruth, they go to the penalty box, giving their opponent two minutes of free camera time.

In lieu of the final debate, however, I suggest making the two candidates run through the complete ABC “Wipeout” course (with no Secret Service help). Not because we’d learn anything, but because it would be hilarious.

Think about it for 2016. All debates, no political ads. And just maybe they’ll let us text in our votes instead of all that messy voting booth stuff. Regular text-messaging fees may apply.

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