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Debates or Just Soundbites?

Updated: Feb 25, 2020


I hate debates. Or should I say I hate debates the way they're done on TV these days. OK, maybe I better explain before you decide to tune out. When I was growing up, and even up to the debates when Clinton was running for reelection in the 1996 Presidential election, we actually got to hear the candidates. They would be able to present ideas and answer in-depth questions with enough details that we truly were able to get an idea of who they were, what they stood for, and what they would do (or try to do) as our future President. Unfortunately, starting in 2000, it was all about huge fields of candidates. This resulted in much shorter times for the candidates to answer questions. For the recent two elections (2016 and the current 2020) it seems there has been some desire to return to some of the debates of bygone eras. They have split the very large field into two separate nights, trying to allow for longer answers. However, in this voter's mind, they have failed miserably.


This article has nothing to do with my feelings towards either party or about the party with which I associate. Both parties have the same problem. No candidate in either party gets to really explain anything. Why? Because, for the moderators - almost always someone from the press - it's all about soundbites. They get the candidates to agree to one-to-two-minute answers with a 30 second rebuttal if their name is invoked, or just a 30 second answer if the moderator asks a follow-up question. Here are my most frustrating issues in no particular order:

  1. The mediator asks the candidate to answer a question with a yes/no answer. Really?! You only give them two minutes and you're going to try to get him or her to consolidate a topic all the way down to "Yes" or "No"? These candidates are using this time to try to reach as many people as possible about why they're the best choice to represent their party (in the Primary) or the country (in the General Election), and they don't need the moderator treating them like a hostile witness in a cross-examination. Let them expound on what and why.

  2. They're trying to go over too many topics. Good grief! This debate, no matter which party, is far more important than American Idol, The Blacklist, and The Orville combined. If you're going to let 18 candidates (18!!!!!!!) take the stage, make the debate more than two nights. Take a week (Sunday through Thursday or Monday through Friday) so you can get real answers to the questions. We need to hear real answers so we can make real decisions.

  3. All they want are soundbites. There's no way we can begin to make decisions after one or two nights of hearing two-minute answers. So why do they do it? Remember, it's the press. It's done solely for the soundbites. They want to use the gaffes and biggest fight-starting quips on the news that night. It's the conflict that gets viewers to the news, and it's the news organizations that run the debates.

Here's my suggestion: Run it like a modified American Idol or America's Got Talent. For two nights, you run 9 candidates each night, so we can hear from them all. You only have five topics so you can give them time to expound on any answers and the voting viewers can do just that - vote. After the first two nights, you schedule two more nights, but now only with the top six or seven from results of the two-night viewer votes. Now you can run a two night debate that would let us hear the other ten topics with the best candidates of this debate series. Don't have viewer votes for these. It's just a two night debate with the best six or seven. Next month, it starts all over again with however many are still in the race - let's say 15. Four nights; viewer vote participation for the first two to reduce the field for this debate series. Do this enough, and you'll be down to the same five or six that we would have gotten to, but we'll know a lot more about what they'll do as President.


This would definitely bring in ratings, which is gold for the stations, and it would allow us (as voters) to be more informed. More participation through this process would also mean more overall participation on election day.


Tell me what you think in the comments below. Remember to subscribe and share.

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