02 September 2008

The Debates I'd Like to See, Part II

OK, for the primaries, I already advised both parties on a better way to get the candidates together to discuss the issues, now it's time to fix the debate structure for the general election (in a manner that neither party will ever agree to, unfortunately).

Here's what we need for the general election (it even has a catchy title)


Here's the set-up, after the RNC convention wraps up, and both candidates are set, they'll have a week to announce a team of advisers that will represent them on specific policy areas. Basically, I'd expect both candidates to all but announce their major cabinet picks, plus their top administrator. The furious five would be the presumptives of both parties for the position of Secretary of State, Defense, Treasury, Attorney General, as well as Chief of Staff. "Why those five?" you ask. Good question, here's the answer, State and Defense give the broader framework of international relations, and when it comes to the Executive branch, that's the one area that they have the most reach and power when compared to the other two branches, so it's crucial to know as much as possible about the kind of person a candidate is considering for those positions before voters are forced to make their choice. As far as domestic policy, Treasury and Attorney General are the two main surrogates, Treasury because economic policy is set by the President, and his choice there is a big signal as to what he thinks would be successful in helping America prosper, and the other big side of domestic policy is lawmaking, law interpretation, and criminal prosecution, and the AG is in charge of all that. The many other cabinet positions, and cabinet level offices have their roles (though many of them could be eliminated and folded into other offices), but to keep this from getting out of hand just a few big picture type folks are all that is necessary to make this more informative than the system we have now. That's why a Chief of Staff, as far as sub-Secretary level appointments, is someone I want to hear from as well. The kind of person a President chooses for Chief of Staff says a lot about a President, and it is one of the most purely political offices in the cabinet. Know who that pick will be, and you'll know what the real nuts and bolts of an administration will be like. It would be fascinating to hear prospective Chiefs hash out politics with each other.

Here's how the WONK-OFF would work. The two presumptive Secretaries of State would go at each other directly for two hours on matters of state. They'd alternate asking and answering questions. No moderator, no audience, just two policy wonks wonking off at each other. Whether they choose to really ask and answer questions, or just use their time to rattle off talking points would be up to each individual, but at least the information would be out there, and the personalities, politics, and positions of these people would be out there for everyone to observe. Repeat the above process for the other four official wonks, and you have yourself 10 hours of official head to head policy discussions a week.

We elect one person (well two people, but given that you can't split the Prez and VP votes, really you are only choosing the top of the ticket, the VP is just a bonus), but an entire team is who governs. I want to know who that team is before I vote, I want to hear the official surrogates battle each other directly on specific subject areas in an official capacity. I want the candidates to have to react to what their surrogates say and be forced to confirm or deny the direction they hope to take the country on a variety of issues.

A few tepid debates hosted by some media figure hardly scratches the surface of the real issues. Mostly they're just a chance for a candidate to not screw up and show how he reacts when off script. It's not enough anymore. A WONK-OFF would bring curious and engaged voters much more information than they now get, in a much more official way, and in a way that would be hard for media to spin (OK, harder). YouTube would fill up with clips from each Wonk-Off, and what our country might have in store depending on which choice voters make would just be a little bit clearer.

All five official wonks would have to WONK-OFF against each other once a week from the 3rd week of Sept to the last week of OCT. Spread out the WONK-OFFs by days of week, so State would be MON, Defense, would be TUE, and so on, with the Chiefs of Staff wonking off each other each Friday. That'd be six weeks of wonking off, six weeks of real policy discussions, or at least real screaming matches between equally matched surrogates from both sides. The Presidential Debates could be scheduled on Sundays so as not to overshadow the WONK-OFFs, but by having these on a regular schedule, and on a weekly basis, the campaign for ideas between each party would be forced into the forefront and would be battled in a face to face way without any media interference. I know the networks won't carry this, but CSPAN could, and the Internet can, and the soundbites would drive the cable news coverage after each debate. Instead of talking about pregnant daughters, the cable newsers and internet freaks would be forced to talk about actual policy discussions. I think that might be nice for a change.

Seems like this isn't such a radical suggestion, but I'm nearly certain nothing even close to approximating such a sane and informative approach would ever be attempted.

(and checking my old posts, I did sort of mention this idea before, but it's more fleshed out here)

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