The recent presidential and vice presidential debates have been closely watched by the American Public. In an era when television has moved away from serials, dramas and sit-coms in favor of reality TV, and the major media outlets have moved from watchdog journalism to entertainment news, we should consider replacing the State of the Union Address and infrequent press conferences with live debates.
Our presidents and congressional leaders have failed to serve their constituents, allowing gridlock and partisan feuds to rule the day. Instead of feeling hopeless, awaiting the next election cycle to see if a true leader can emerge, why not demand that they debate the issues they all claim they want to solve? Instead of pawns we could become participants in the live drama by becoming far more aware of what is going on in our nation’s capital.
At least once per year the president should spend an hour-and-a-half debating major issues with a member of the opposing party, such as the Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader, and explain what they are doing or why they haven’t accomplished the many promises they so adamantly told us they would accomplish if elected. This would give each side a stage to bring the compelling issues before the American public. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. They can call each other liars and insist the facts have been twisted, but the major issues of the day would be front and center and in full view of the American public instead of presented at staged, scripted events.
Take for example the current issues swirling around the now confirmed terrorist attack in Benghazi. How much would we know today were it not for the debates and upcoming elections? The press didn’t demand accountability until more details were coming out as a result of the debates. How serious are presidential appearances and interviews on shows like the View, late night comedy shows or Entertainment Tonight? Our nation’s leaders have been able to hide behind subordinates and entertainment celebrities instead of facing the nation and responding publicly and personally to their critics.
Take for example a recent appearance on ABC’s the View. Whoopi Goldberg barely let Ann Romney settle into her seat before quizzing the candidate’s wife, asking why Mitt Romney didn't serve in Vietnam, if the couple is prepared to console families of fallen soldiers, their stance on abortion and issues related to the Romneys’ Mormon faith. Unlike a recent joint appearance on the show by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, during which questioning ranged from how romantic is the president, what his mood is like given the pressures he faces and details pertaining to the couple's anniversary celebration. This interview took priority over meeting with world leaders at the UN while in New York City.
Facing off directly against those who adamantly oppose their actions would better enable the American public to determine the shortcomings of our nation’s leaders. If the problem is Congress, the president can call them out and ask the public for their assistance to move issues through the House or Senate. If legislation isn’t passing because congress is loading up bills with pork barrel items the president can specifically address those issues to the public. But if it’s clear that the president isn’t providing the appropriate leadership as promised to move the country forward, the public and the press will be compelled to demand greater accountability.
To make the discussions more focused and to ensure the moderator is not spellbound by the participant’s celebrity, nor bullied due to their powerful perseverance, I would suggest we enlist the services of a former US president to control the evening’s discussions as the moderator. By keeping the press off the stage their primary role becomes reporting and not interjecting themselves or their opinions into the issues at hand. Who knows, it might even produce a return to more balanced journalism.
Should one party control all three houses the organizers would then ask for a national opposition leader to step forward and provide the opposing viewpoint. My final suggestion would be for the League of Women Voters to be the non-partisan organization to oversee the debates as opposed to subordinates of those debating or party officials.
We must find a way to break the deadlock that has continued to grow worse in Washington. This might be a way to do just that. If you think this idea has merit spread the word—it might just take root.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.