News

Is it time to scuttle the debate moderator?

Neal Justin
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

After three widely viewed debates, it's easy to declare a loser: the moderator.

In the first showdown, PBS anchor Jim Lehrer tried desperately to spark interaction, only to have both John McCain and Barack Obama treat him like a hall monitor about to get stuffed into a locker. When the vice presidential candidates met, Gov. Sarah Palin all but ignored PBS' Gwen Ifill at times, proudly declaring that she may not answer the questions posed to her, choosing instead to talk directly to Americans. In last week's bout, the top guns stepped around time limitations and ground rules, leaving Tom Brokaw to declare that he was "just a hired hand."

All three journalists are top-notch, as is Bob Schieffer, who will be "in charge" of Wednesday's final debate, but when it comes to the modern-day format for presidential debates, the moderator is nothing more than a highly paid chaperone who can't keep the rascals from spiking the punch.

Schieffer would be better off if he skipped the event - and so would we.

I'm not suggesting that we revert to the approach used in 1858, when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas faced each other seven times while seeking a seat in the Illinois Senate. At those debates, one candidate would get an hour to talk, with the other getting 90 minutes to respond, followed by a final 30-minute rebuttal by the first speaker. Then the two of them would go into the crowd and gently wake up everyone who had dozed off.

I also wouldn't suggest adopting the style used in most high schools, where teenagers spew facts and figures so fast it would make Joe Biden's head explode.

The best option would be what's traditionally known as "impromptu debate." Here's how it would work: Each candidate would be locked in a room with nothing more than a notebook, a pen and a bowl of fruit. Exactly 20 minutes before the cameras go on, someone would slip three general questions under their doors. With less than a half-hour to prepare, the candidates would emerge and each would be given five minutes to address the first question. After that, there would be a 10-minute free-for-all between the two of them. Rinse and repeat.

That's it. No moderator, no additional rules, no safety glass. The results would be dramatic, messy, unpredictable and more telling than a dozen town halls.

I'm no Washington insider, but I'm pretty sure that presidents don't conduct diplomacy sessions with Ryan Seacrest refereeing (although in this day and age, I can't be sure). They surely don't need a supervisor when it comes to a debate.

Voters would get a chance to weigh both the content and the character of the candidates. Who hogged the mike? Who listened better? Who interrupted the most? Who lost their top? Who kept their cool?

If a candidate can't handle a one-on-one discussion with their political opponent, then I've got to wonder how they'll handle running a country.

We've got less than 48 hours to get behind this campaign. I'll bring the fruit.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image