If there was one thing we learned from watching 20 candidates debate for four hours, it is: that’s too many candidates. If there is a useful thing we learned, however, it is this: We should be holding single-topic debates.
Having ten candidates on stage—eight of whom are utterly desperate—does, certainly, contribute quite a bit to messiness and dysfunction. Apart from that, though, the format of “Try to fit in a question on every topic and so each topic is touched on very shallowly before rushing on to the next topic and also not every candidate is given a chance to address every topic” is not a very good one! The point of debates should be to allow candidates to present their thoughts to the public clearly. The point of debates as they currently stand is to create dramatic narratives on television. That can be changed.
There are 12 official DNC debates scheduled. Twelve! That is a lot. As it stands now, each of those debates will be a chaotic, swirling mess of topics-of-the-moment, designed to reward memorized zingers written by a team of speechwriters. This tells us very little about how someone will act as president. Instead, what if we made ten of those debates single-topic? An hour or two focusing exclusively on, say:
- Climate change.
- Economic inequality
- Racial inequality
- Gender inequality
- Fixing our voting and democracy
- Foreign policy
- Criminal justice
Or whatever. (Don’t like these specific topics? That’s not the point!!!) In the first debates we saw the question of “What is the single biggest threat to America?” dealt with in one sentence answers. That is, plainly, absurd. We saw the question of the top tax rate touched on, then quickly abandoned. What is the overall structure of taxes that must be implemented in order to mitigate inequality effectively? What exactly does John Hickenlooper mean by “socialism,” compared and contrasted with Bernie and Warren? How will we pay for the Green New Deal? What should be the State Department’s approach to each of ten important foreign nations be? You will never in a million years find out, in our current debate structure. Takes too long to talk about. One minute only! Now moving on to Iran! Now moving on to school shootings! Now moving on to the latest insult from Trump! It is, you must admit, a very stupid way to interview people for the world’s most important job.
Imagine giving a candidate five minutes to talk about fixing an existential problem, rather than one minute, while they are being yelled at from both sides? Crazy, I know, but perhaps a good use of our time.
Single topic debates. Raise the polling cutoff for entry very slightly as we go. Allow the moderators to cut off the candidates’ mics. Talk about policy. No commercials. Mandatory broadcast. Winner of the national popular vote wins. Outlaw the Boston Red Sox. A simple plan for fixing democracy.