The Debates Should Be Over

By: Thomas Lindaman

The 2008 Election isn’t for another year or so, but you couldn’t tell it by watching the potential candidates. First, Democrats raised a stink about Fox News offering to host a Democrat debate because, according to John “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” Edwards, Fox News is…biased! Once Edwards said it, other Democrats jumped on the bandwagon and the event was cancelled. And how did I find out about it? Watching candidates talk about the issue on CNN.

Republicans, on the other hand, walked agreed to let MSNBC and Politico host a Republican debate recently. With the moderator being Chris Matthews, the candidates walked into a lion’s den, or would that be a spitting cobra’s pit? Either way, people could email suggested questions for the candidates to answer, including this winner by someone in California: “Governor Romney, what do you like least about America?”

I’ll give the Republican candidates points for taking on this venture, but you had to know it was going to be a set-up. After all, MSNBC makes a living off Matthews and Keith Olbermann, two figures known for teeing off on Republicans like Tiger Woods at a driving range. The only way it could have been more of a set-up would have been to have it sponsored by and have Cindy Sheehan be the moderator.

Both of these situations lead me to two conclusions. One, having MSNBC host a Presidential debate is like letting Arthur Andersen prepare your taxes. And, two, we don’t really need Presidential debates anymore. They’re fun to watch (that is, if you’re into sadomasochism C-Span style), but they don’t really provide the solid information or rhetorical value they used to.

One reason for this is that we have changed. At the turn of the 20th Century, politicians and other speakers would give speeches that lasted hours. Rumor has it that former President William Howard Taft gave a speech so long it continued for a good two hours after he died. Anymore, a 90 minute movie tends to tax our attention spans. Why is that? Because we’ve allowed the media to turn us into people with the attention span of a crack-addicted ferret riddled with ADD drinking its 14th triple espresso.

And as our attention spans have shrunk, so has the content of a politician’s speech. Instead of focusing on wide, thought-provoking concepts on the various issues that we have to deal with, Democrats and Republicans have opted for the Political Campaigns for Dummies route. Short, punchy, catchy slogans that could have very easily come from Madison Avenue as from Pennsylvania Avenue are commonplace. All it takes is the right slogan for the right situation and before you know it, you’re thinking Dennis Kucinich is Presidential.

What’s also changed is how we get our information. Debates filled a void in the days when our media options were limited to talking or listening. Nowadays, there are websites (like, blogs (like The Bottom Line blog), radio shows (like Warchick Revolution, of which I’m a frequent guest), YouTube (sorry, but I don’t have a shameless plug for something I’m doing on YouTube, but give me time), and many other sources. The media can keep airing the debates, but by the time they roll around for Election 2008, the only way you’d be undecided would be if you were a complete moron or you’re still using dial-up to get online.

Instead of having Presidential or candidate debates, why not have something more fun? For example, bring back the show “American Gladiators” and have the candidates compete to see who wins. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing John Edwards get pelted with tennis balls shot out of an air cannon at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. And who wouldn’t want to see John McCain try to fight a beefed-up, oiled-up, hairy bodybuilder type who is hitting him with what appears to be a giant Q-Tip? And maybe after he’s done sparring with one of the women he could take on one of the guys.

But if you’re more of a traditionalist, we could keep the debates, but with one addition. Well, two, technically.

Penn and Teller.

They have a show called “BS” (the actual name is something I can’t repeat here) where they debunk commonly held beliefs that are simply not true. I would suggest putting them as moderators of all the debates. Whenever a candidate says something that sounds like BS, they would hit a loud buzzer, and the letters BS would appear on the screen. Then, they or people on the staff would research it and the debate would stop until the factoid could be verified or debunked. Oh, and did I mention no one could leave the auditorium until that happened? Granted, this would turn a 2 hour debate into something akin to the Florida recounts from 2000, but I guarantee it would only happen once before the candidates figured out the score.

So, we have two options: “American Candidate Gladiators” or the Penn and Teller Presidential Debates. Either one would be light years ahead of what we currently have, and it would ultimately benefit us all. Or at least it would benefit me because I really want to see John Edwards meet the business end of a tennis ball.

Thomas Lindaman is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. and The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. He is also Publisher of

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