Experts, Please

10.05.12

A Modest Debate Proposal

A very smart fellow I know suggests that we dump journalists moderating debates and replace them with panels of experts. I’m all for it. I think I even floated this in the Guardian back in 2008, although I don’t remember for certain.

Anyway, it could work like this. There’s one debate on domestic policy and one on foreign policy. Each campaign gets to suggest two experts it wants at the table. The other party can’t veto, but can strenuously object to the Commission on Presidential Debates, if it feels a nominee isn’t properly credentialed, and the commission decides. And we get four experts, two from each side.

I would love to see candidates have to wrestle with pointed and specific questions from budget and health-care experts from Brookings, the Economic Policy Institute, Heritage, and Cato. This would be so much better than the current format. Journalists are usually awful at these debates. David Gregory the other night in Massachusetts spending 15 minutes on the Cherokee business. Jim Lehrer, who I’m sure we all agree was miserable.

Obviously, this wouldn’t put an end to political blather and chest-puffery and spin and b.s. But it probably would curtail it some. It would be awesome to see candidates have to discuss, say, the pros and cons of different kinds of health-care exchanges, or be pressed to provide details on the steps they’d take to ensure Medicare solvency, and so on.

On foreign policy, the debate needn’t be quite so caught up in minutiae. The candidates could be asked a couple of historical questions along with more pointed questions that test their knowledge of the world and such.

I think also that these should last a while—two hours, maybe more! Let ‘em talk, fine. But let the panelists interrupt them too. “Governor, you didn’t even remotely answer the question.” Get them mad, see how they handle it.

I’d keep a town-hall style thing as a third debate, with questions from regular people. This could be moderated by some local bigshot everyone basically respects—a university president, a chief of surgery, a bank president, whatever. But get the journalists out of it, I’m sorry to say.