So much self-serving spin attaches to modern presidential debates–especially since the hijacking of the organizational process by crudely-corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates–that it is almost impossible to clearly identify a winner.
Broadcast media long ago replaced serious analysis with the banter of paid partisans, all but guaranteeing that–now that John McCain has decided to participate–Republicans will mark it for McCain and Democrats will declare it for Barack Obama.
After a week of wrangling about domestic economic issues that got so intensely convoluted that the debate itself was jeopardized, the real challenge for both McCain and Obama has suddenly become one of balancing the announced theme of Friday’s session–foreign policy–with the desired discussion of booms, busts and bailouts. If either candidate seems too inclined toward dialogue about Pakistan or Georgia, he will be accused of being unconscious of the current crisis. On the other hand, overly ambitious attempts to steer every answer toward talk of foreclosures and executive compensation will bring charges that the offending contender lacks the capacity for the sort of multitasking that is required of thoroughly modern presidents.
What to do?
Instead of engaging in the ridiculous conceit of having opposing candidates come up with “shared principles” for resolving the economic crisis–about which a conservative Republican and a progressive Democrat ought to disagree–McCain and Obama should agree, man-to-man, on a plan for a relevant debate.
Moderator Jim Lehrer has already signalled that economic issues will be on the table.
So why not agree to delay the necessary foreign-policy debate and go for it?
And why not adopt a format that allows for a serious discussion–as opposed to the political preening that has passed for presidential debating in recent decades.
Obama and McCain could borrow a page from the first broadcast debate between contenders for the White House.
No, not the 1960 televised debate between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John Kennedy, but the 1948 radio debate between a pair of candidates for the Republican presidential nod, New York Governor Thomas Dewey and former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen.
That year, before a May primary in Oregon, Dewey accepted Stassen’s challenge to debate.
The two candidates agreed to address a single question that at the time seemed rather pressing: Shall the Communist Party in the United States Be Outlawed?”