In Las Vegas GOP Debate, Why Not Flip the Script?


It’s debate time and citizens of varying political stripes are turning their attention to presidential hopefuls as they seek their respective party’s nomination for the ensuing 2012 race. The most scrutinized of all is the current pursuit for the Republican candidacy. Americans across the country will tune in to tonight's GOP debate in Las Vegas hoping to gain a better idea of who will win the nomination and challenge the struggling Obama presidency. But Americans will be left unsatisfied. Political debates are largely fruitless events in which no one wins — least of all the voters.

Viewers tune in hoping to identify the person who has a grasp on the most pressing issues of our time, the person who is willing to address difficult topics and probe into their complex, and often unpopular, solutions. What we hear, however, is a predictable and oversimplified dialogue lacking substance in which the status quo prevails. If Americans truly want a better vision of who is the best candidate, then it is time to flip the script on political debates.

How does this happen? To start, it is unreasonable to think a candidate can give an in-depth response in the amount of time allotted. In the August 11th GOP debate held in Ames, Iowa, the candidates were allowed one minute to answer a question. When issued a rebuttal they were granted 30 seconds to respond. This borders on the absurd.

Post-9/11, the United States began combat operations in Afghanistan in October of 2001. The current conflict in Iraq has been raging since March of 2003. The global economy is on the brink of meltdown.

“Governor, how would you address these crises? You have 60 seconds to answer.”

The set-up is flawed and lends itself to shallow and scripted responses that fail to get at the roots of problems. Nor do they give viewers a true assessment of proposed solutions.

Rather, why not look to a roundtable discussion, something similar to last week's Bloomberg debate? The basis remains the same; an issue or initial question is laid out by a mediator who also guides and monitors the conversation. Rather than cut a person off after 60 seconds of lambasting the current administration and everything it has done wrong, allow the candidate to explain what he or she would do differently and, more importantly, how?

Next, let candidates ask questions of each other. Allow them to discuss their differences and where they disagree. If there is one thing politicians do well, it is this. Allow their personalities to emerge. In the end, viewers will gain better insight into a candidate’s beliefs and character.

This will never work? Please, explain. After all, the same manner of exchange is promoted in many college classrooms and in boardrooms across the country. It is an environment that engenders healthy debate and exchange. Does it get heated? Certainly. And ideas are heard, perspectives are shown, and leaders emerge.

Feel free to disagree. However, these days America’s disillusionment with its elected officials seems to be the only area of sustained growth. The president’s approval rating currently stands at 41% and Congress at an abysmal 13%. Like so many things in our country, our resistance to do things differently impedes our progress and by maintaining the status quo we only digress. Want a better vision for America? We better start looking at things from a different perspective.

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