Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

I think I'll go with the same question. Presidential nomination debates, 2016: What would you like to see? Format, frequency, moderators -- what would you like?


  1. 1) More debates.

    2) Randomly select four participants using a poll-lead weighted lottery system, where the candidates get a number of lottery tickets for participation proportional to their standing in the polls.

    3) Allow candidates to question one another

    4) Ask questions written by policy experts

    1. I'd say two or three debates in each of the early states, then potentially more in later states depending on the length of the primary contest, is more than sufficient.

      I'd also like to see the candidates question each other more, although I'm skeptical that the campaigns will agree to this, particularly frontrunning campaigns.

      I further agree that written questions from wonks is a promising idea, although which experts and who gets to select them could quickly grow problematic.

    2. I'd be pretty happy with questions from a panel of journalists who cover policy rather than electoral politics beats.

    3. Kevin: More debates? According to,_2008 there were 25 debates in which both Senators Clinton and Obama participated in 2007-8. There were 19 debates in 2007-8 between Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Do you want forty? Fifty?,_2012 Isn't there a point of diminishing returns?

  2. Competitive tightrope walking while juggling. No net.

  3. Nice question!

    For format, I'd like something where the moderator gets out of the way and lets the candidates talk. I'm mostly agnostic on rules; I mean, time limits seem like a good idea so no one monopolizes, but I'd prefer discussions where candidates have an opportunity to go deep into policy if they want. Ppl watching the debate may not follow everything being talked about, but I think the American ppl, and esp the audience for debates, appreciate politicians who at least sound like they've thought deeply about the issues. See Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention.

    In terms of frequency, bc I'd like the discussion to go deep, I'd be in favor of more rather than less. This would be annoying if every debate was a shallow re hash of the same topics, like the 2012 GOP primary, but it might be informative if the debate was broadly in a domestic or foreign policy category, and then the moderator allowed the debate to focus mostly on, ie surveillance or health care or jobs, according to how the candidates engaged with the questions and with each other.

    For moderators, I'd prefer reporters who actually were familiar with poli sci/economic/foreign policy literature. So Ezra Klein and Chris Hayes, instead of the usual suspects, would be cool. It would also be interesting to have various policy experts sit in panels and have questions prepared, maybe or maybe not with some preliminary questions sent to the candidates in advance. Additionally, maybe the moderators could ask for questions from the blogosphere in advance, and pick the ones they most like to ask. So Matt Yglesias could send in his question on monetary regime change and Anne Marie Slaughter could send in her question on constructing a rules based global order.

    Reading over this, maybe itt's pie in the sky. But it would be fun!

  4. I like the YouTube debates because they involve normal folks asking questions about how politics affects their lives. Far preferable to Beltway moderators demanding candidates cut Social Security.

  5. I'd like to see several of them and for them to be town halls or debates where the candidates question each other. And there should always be the chance for follow-up questions. If I could get rid of moderators entirely I would, though sometimes local (not DC) reporters ask good questions.

  6. I like the thought of long answers. Depends on the number of candidates on the slate at the time, but if there were something like four or five questions, with seven-to-ten minute answers, that'd be nifty.

    A corollary to long answers might be greater candidate foreknowledge of questions. I guess the "stump the candidates" is kind of a debate tradition, but I'm dubious of it's worth.

  7. I don't know how many voters there are left who look at the early debates (when there are a half dozen or more candidates on stage) with one main question: who among them seems smart enough to actually be President of the United States? But that's always my first thought.

    Do the questions even matter? Sometimes accidentally in these early debates. I agree that questions from more than one source are helpful. The balance of power especially in the general election debates is all wrong. Two candidates in the power of one "moderator."

    Length of answers and cross-examining aren't practical in the mob debates--and I don't see how it's really possible to limit the number of candidates participating. But in the general, yes--more substance. I would in both instances--primary and general-- vary the format to exclude a studio audience once in awhile. Presidents don't make decisions before audiences.

  8. It would be interesting to see a primary debate in which the questioners were representatives of "party-aligned groups" with a stake in particular policies and an interest in making fine distinctions among hopefuls within the same party. In other words, take an element of the "invisible primary" and make it visible. (Needless to say, these are ideas I wouldn't have had if not for reading this blog.) Also, I endorse others' suggestions that questioning be more in-depth with more follow-ups. Having party-aligned group reps as questioners would lend itself well to this.

    A debate before a panel of top bloggers would be interesting too -- say, on the Dem side, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum and Jonathan Bernstein. Something like that. Questioners in general should be chosen for their firm grasp of policy and their ability to make clear when candidates are blowing smoke.

  9. Agree with Jeff's idea about involvement from party actors. I see this partly as a contrast to all the youtube/twitter/etc. questions from 'regular voters'. It's not that Im against regular voters participating in the debate process. But a lot of times you get questions that aren't really germane to how the party is going to distinguish between the candidates and make its decision.

    Another thing Id like to see is more process questions, especially when policy differences are minimal. How the candidate will staff the administration, how they will deal with Congress, and how they *plan* to make foreign policy and national security decisions are more relevant than the minor differences in their various jobs plans.

  10. I was writing in the '90's about television's use of stagecraft to hypnotize audiences, so you can imagine how completely turned off I am to the acceleration of television stagecraft-spectacular culture in general over the ensuing time, and its application to Presidential debates in particular.

    So just to completely change the culture, let's have it be just the candidates, moderator and any panelists out in nature somewhere, no audience at all but the cameras and the viewers, no other human faces on the show whatsoever.

    Or here's another one. There can be a reasonable stage and audience, but it's just the candidates -- and their first job is to elect one of themselves as a moderator, or devise some other constitutional arrangement they can all live with.

    That should be very instructive about their political skills, eh? And extremely embarrassing, one would hope, if it degenerates into a shouting match or a stalemate.

  11. Let's make it more like real life: do it on a conference call with 30 participants - some of who randomly mute/unmute their phones so that kids crying/dogs barking in the background interrupt candidates.

    One of the participants can have an improperly set up bluetooth headset so that they get that weird Jimi Hendrix echo/delay/feedback thing. The volumes will all be set at crazy levels so that some people have to shout and others are too loud no matter what they do.

    If you can make your point coherently over that mess, you have accomplished something.

  12. Charlie Rose-style, with Charlie Rose moderating. Round table and everything.

  13. I need to know # of candidates before I can comment on debate format. If the race turns out to be Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, and three no-name candidates? Go for the long answers. If 12 people run? You can to do a lot of the 30 second or hand-raising ones.

  14. The thing I hate most about the debates is the novel-length questions. All questions should be limited to 200 characters in length, anything longer and you're cut off.

    And yes, any-and-all preface is considered part of the question. No two-ten minute story setting up the question.

    Ask the goddamn question and be done with it.

    I don't really care about anything else, other than limiting question length and pre question commentary/set-up by the person asking the question.

  15. I would prefer to have candidates able to directly ask eachother questions.

    If there is a moderator, I would prefer a liberal moderator. No news anchors feigning extreme nonpartisanship. But at the same time they should be fair and keep their own personal bs out of it. So doubly no Charlie Gibson. Maybe different moderators for different questions--people who know what they're talking about, with the main guy just acting as host. But not too much time on introductions please!

    No Youtube questions, questions from the troop(er)s, audience questions, or any of that bs. That goes along with the no long preface bs someone said above. I do like the idea of having some questions from normal people that aren't about the urgent need to cut social security, but some of the normal folks ask those same bs questions--see a plumbing company owner named Joe--and the producers are going to get to pick the questions no matter what anyway.

    Absolutely no questions where the poser/moderator gets to frame what the problem is, what the solution is, or anything else. I don't want ignorants (I'm looking at you, news anchors!) assuming that a budget deficit is bad and demanding candidates reduce it. Same goes for assuming high military spending=safety, the appropriate foreign policy is whatever a bunch of generals say it is, social security/medicare is "unsustainable", etc.

    The moderator should try to represent the will of the party, and focus explicitly on party goals and wellbeing, not just on some bipartisan notion of national good. They should openly discuss Republican efforts to suppress voting, unions, and abortion access, to undermine programs which assist the poor, and to funnel money to the wealthy as an inter-party dispute and with an explicit framing of Republican politicians as enemies.


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