Saturday, May 12, 2007

Slate and the debates

photos: Pasadena City College,ImdB

Earlier this week, Slate ran an article by John Dickerson entitled "Help! Democracy Needs You: Offer ideas to fix the lousy presidential debates".

The political parties and networks that host the debates don't want to alienate activists who tend to support the long-shot candidates. (And it's not certain that they should eject candidates with nothing to lose—in the Democratic debate, Dennis Kucinich helped push Barack Obama out of his sluggish performance to talk about his views on the use of military force.)
What are your ideas for sharpening and strengthening the debates?
We'll put together the best responses and feature them in a future piece. Since we're co-hosting a series of debates in the fall with the Huffington Post and Yahoo!, perhaps we'll even end up using a few of your ideas ourselves.

Now, I'd like to parse some of Dickerson's verbiage regarding how they'll "put together the best responses and feature them..." and respond to that, insofar as it occurs to me that Slate, aka the Washington Post will most likely put together the most ostensibly clever but fundamentally nonthreatening responses that don't challenge some of the basic assumptions behind the presidential debates as they're offered on mainstream teevee, such as that the supposedly marginal, i.e. less monied, candidates should be treated patronizingly as part of a dog-and-pony show designed to pay lip service to democracy and diversity, etc...

But I won't, at least not today. Partly because I know that although the above-referenced article is offered as being authored by Dickerson, in all likelihood he has to represent the consensus view as opposed to his own, whatever that may be. And partly, because even though I'm awfully suspicious of Slate/WaPo/yes-even-the-Huffington-post and the ideological filter they are likely to wield, I know that occasionally unfiltered views will seep out of exercises like this. So here's my letter:

First, thank you for asking, because the debates do indeed suck in the most massively imaginable way possible.

this is what you do:
1.remove the dems and the gop's "bipartisan comission" from being in charge and put the league of women voters back in charge, as they were for so long.

2.once party nominees are made, invite the democratic and republican nominees, of course, but also the Green party and Libertarian party nominees. Needless to say, the nominees for parties 3 and 4 still wouldn't have a meaningful shot at winning the presidency-- but that really isn't the point. Their presence and their responses will force the major candidates and the major media to deal with issues and perspectives they raise. And yes, I know there are still more political parties, like the Constitution and Natural Law parties, but I'd say the "top four" are sufficient. Thing number 2 occurring depends on thing number 1 occurring first, or so I very strongly suspect. (Also the 5th and 6th parties I cite are nutballs.)

3.Enough with the essay questions requiring a "simple" yes-or-no response-- and requiring the candidates to effectively buy in to the assumptions of the questioner. (Brian Williams is particularly bad about this.)

4.No more phoney questions from phoney real people. I'm not really sure how you'd accomplish this. How would YOU do this, mistah Dickerson?

5. Force Frank Luntz to shave his goofy-ass sideburns. It wont improve democracy, but it will make the images that we see on tv when election season is on somewhat less off-putting. I'd say just remove him and his statistically questionable snake-oil show from the airwaves entirely, but I imagine that's expecting too much.
thanks again,
Jonathan Versen

PS: I am a very good blogger. You should come visit, and, once you agree with me, take it upon yourself to tell everybody you know about how awesome I am. Hell, tell total strangers at the grocery store. If you don't go grocery shopping, tell your butler. Have a wonderful day.

Now, I probably should've checked to see if the Natural Law party was still around before I dashed off my missive to John Dickerson, especially after asserting what a wonderful blogger I was(am). And maybe my attempt at jocularity in the postscript, which I already wince at, just served to make me seem like a loony. If so, c'est la vie.

Likewise, I'm beginning to feel bad that I maligned Frank Luntz's sideburns. I still think they're off-putting, and I seriously doubt he would care what I think in the highly unlikely event he found out, but I feel I shouldn't have written that. And yes, maybe I shouldn't have said that the NLP and Constitution parties are nutballs, with the implicit assumption that the Greens and the Libertarians aren't nutballs-- even though this aligns, albeit imperfectly and with certain caveats-- with how I view them.

Anyway, if you want to write to Dickerson, there's an email link at the Slate article, above.

A brief follow up, here: "Slate and the debates, pt 2"

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