It’s Time to Change Up the Debate Rules

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Question for those of you who watched last night’s debate: what did you think of the questions the moderators asked?

It was an odd display. The wording of the questions often veered close to outright rudeness. For example:

  • Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?
  • You’re skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or least finish what you start?
  • In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy.

At the same time, if you take a look an inch below the surface, most of the questions the CNBC crew asked were actually very substantive. The candidates generally didn’t feel like engaging with anything other than their plans to cut taxes and slash regulations, but that’s not the fault of the moderators. That’s because it’s a Republican debate, and these are pretty much the only economic issues Republican candidates like to talk about.

This year’s debates have all followed a similar pattern, with the moderators asking each candidate at least one “tough” question near the beginning of the show. Fox did it too, and Anderson Cooper did it to the Democrats, so it’s not a liberal media conspiracy. Mostly it seems to be some kind of alpha chimp display to demonstrate that the moderators are real live journalists, not just pretty faces letting the candidates make stump speeches.

I didn’t really mind this the first time or two, but I’m starting to find it annoying. Fine: you folks are real journalists. Now let’s move on and ask questions that are really tough. Dig a little more deeply into policy and then follow up. Maybe switch up the rules and get rid of the “anyone who’s named gets 30 seconds to respond” nitwittery. Give the moderators a couple of minutes for each question, and make it a real back-and-forth. Less mud wrestling and more policy depth.

It probably wouldn’t work. I’m not sure there’s any power on earth that can get the candidates off their rehearsed talking points. But it might be worth a try.

POSTSCRIPT: And on the candidate side, how about giving the attacks on the media a rest? I know it’s a great applause line, but honestly, who cares? It’s just pandering. Find something new to get applause for.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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