Patty Dineen

The view from here

Got problems? A candidates’ debate that would really help voters

So– at last– tomorrow night we will watch the final candidates’ debate before the election.  Is there anybody left in the country who has high expectations for this event?  We’ve seen little departure from these ancient, bastardized, and non-productive formats of questions, sparring, and back and forth that are promoted as “debates.”  Even the so-called “town hall format” is essentially the same tired thing– dressed up with a few “ordinary people” on the stage.  Yawn.  Is this the best we can do?  At a time when there is so much at stake in our country?

The media (which really is what these events are all about) could be revolutionary and innovative about this if they decided to.  They could start by getting real clear about what these “debates” are meant to accomplish.  Are they to: inform, entertain, produce a winner, harvest soundbites and gotchas, clarify positions, “educate the public” (is there any more contempt-revealing view of the public by both the media and the politicians…?), see if it changes the polling numbers?  Some of these goals are openly declared; some are just sadly obvious.

The trouble is that these formats, moderators, and post-event spinning are all firmly based on the premise that this is- above all-  about competition.  The candidates are competing to win; the media outlets are competing for viewers, readers, and clickers; the moderators are competing for professional recognition; and the vast supporting casts for each campaign are competing for future jobs, money, and power.  Last, but also least, there is the public and its future…the public is evidently just not a player in all this; the future is out there somewhere, but doesn’t begin until November 4th.

A candidates’ event that would make a difference would be one rooted not in competition, but in problem-solving.  Public issues are complex, serious problems that government, and leadership, can either exacerbate or help to alleviate.  The country has problems.  We need to select a problem-solver in chief.  Let the candidates (maybe even including some third party candidates who are talking in much more specificity about what it will take to actually solve some of our problems) sit down with some citizens and work- together – through several possible approaches to a problem.  We could watch them deliberate about the pros and cons, costs and consequences of each approach.   The goal would be for them (together) to come up with the best approach to the problem.  We’d be watching to see who works best in a problem-solving mode.  Then, come November 5th, instead of waking up on either the winning side or on the losing side, we would all wake up ready to help our new leaders work on our problems with us.

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Written by dineenp

October 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm

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