louisrosenfeld.com logotype

Home > Bloug Archive

Aug 24, 2007: A modest proposal that has absolutely nothing to do with information architecture

WARNING: narcissism aheadDuring my morning jog today, I was listening to the July 24 podcast of the NPR show On Point. It initially aired the day after the CNN/YouTube Democratic candidates' presidential debate, and the discussion focused on the value and significance of American citizens communicating directly (if asynchronously) with candidates via video questions.

(Though I'm a bit of a political junkie, I didn't watch it, nor do I know anyone who did. The election is, after all, fifteen months away. The only serious conversation I've had about it was with a Mexican government official while in Monterrey last month. Glad someone cares about American politics. So anyway, I didn't watch it, but—just like the talking heads—that won't prevent me from expounding.)

The On Point commentators discussed the pros and cons of the format. The chief benefit was balancing the control of national discourse by a few powerful media companies with "bottom up" questions that represent "real Americans" and their concerns. I'm fine with that in theory, though in practice, a large media company—CNN—selected the handful of questions from among hundreds of submissions. (Many have rightfully wondered why We The People 2.0 didn't get to vote for questions.)

The commentators also bemoaned how—even in this purportedly wide-open format—the candidates stayed true to form and mouthed polished talking points. And that with eight contestants up on stage, none had the time to talk at any length—or substance—about much of anything to do with the country's policies and future.

Despite all the excitement about this new format—much deserved—we're missing solving the true problem with candidates' debates. Which is: they're simply not debates. Debates are arguments about issues between people, the optimal number of which is two. When was the last time you saw one an actual debate—two candidates challenging each other in detail—during election season?

So a modest proposal in three parts:

  1. Let's bring back debates. Real ones. They're a great way to funnel out intelligent, thinking candidates of depth from, well, the ones who typically get elected.
  2. And as we've got too many candidates to have a real debate all at once, let's go with a round-robin format. Clinton debates Obama one-on-one. Clinton debates Kucinich one-on-one. Clinton debates Biden one-on-one. And so on. Everyone debates everyone. At an hour each—enough time to actually debate a few issues in depth—that's seven hours per candidate. In an election season that starts about a year too early, I think the candidates could fit this into their schedules. Heck, spread them out over a month or two if that's what it takes.
  3. And because we can, let's score each individual debate. "Let's" as in let us. We The People 2.0, baby. Think of it: scores mean debates that are clearly winnable, and won on appealing to the public, not the handful of talking heads who we currently rely on to issue thumbs up or down. Perhaps the candidates would take the debates more seriously if they could be won—or lost? Technically, it should be a snap to support voting on each debate, and not just an overall score, but on wacky specifics, like "who actually answered the questions posed to them". And although Anderson Cooper has nicer hair than most of us, perhaps this time around we can be the ones who choose the questions.

At the end of the round robin, we might have a winner, one whose victory is as meaningful, if not moreso, than winning something as silly and pointless as a straw poll. More importantly, we might return to having something we're sorely missing: actual debate.

email this entry

Comment: Lou (Aug 24, 2007)

Naturally, I'm not the first person to think of this: just did a quick Google search and found this: http://ezraklein.typepad.com/blog/2007/05/livening_up_the.html

But the point isn't to be first; I just think this is a good idea, so I'm happy to help the meme along...

Comment: dirq (Aug 29, 2007)

I love the "actual" debate idea (my God these politicians can dance) but debates are too complex to have a simple win/lose attached to quantify them. Plus, it would eventually turn out to be a Springer style pummeling fest (See Idiocracy). Not that I wouldn't like to see Hillary and Obama duke it out over a couple beers. We can place bets. Maybe the bets could be your quantification.. The more money people put on a candidate the better they must be! :)

Comment: dirq (Aug 29, 2007)

I love the "actual" debate idea (my God these politicians can dance) but debates are too complex to have a simple win/lose attached to quantify them. Plus, it would eventually turn out to be a Springer style pummeling fest (See Idiocrasy). Not that I wouldn't like to see Hillary and Obama duke it out over a couple beers. We can place bets. Maybe the bets could be your quantification.. The more money people put on a candidate the better they must be! :)

Add a Comment:

Name

Email

URL (optional, but must include http://)

Required: Name, email, and comment.
Want to mention a linked URL? Include http:// before the address.
Want to include bold or italics? Sorry; just use *asterisks* instead.

DAYENU ); } else { // so comments are closed on this entry... print(<<< I_SAID_DAYENU
Comments are now closed for this entry.

Comment spam has forced me to close comment functionality for older entries. However, if you have something vital to add concerning this entry (or its associated comments), please email your sage insights to me (lou [at] louisrosenfeld dot com). I'll make sure your comments are added to the conversation. Sorry for the inconvenience.

I_SAID_DAYENU ); } ?>