Unfortunately, one way to cover lots of ground is to allow the candidates - or, I should say, encourage the candidates - to go after each other, by referencing a point or two from one candidate's policy or their record, and throwing a question (Do you agree? What are your thoughts? How do you respond?) to the rest of the people on stage.
It makes for good theater, and it gives pundits a whole lot of material to work with, but does it help a voter understand where the candidates stand? Can we ever learn that, when they have one minute to not only respond to the question, but to get in how their own stance differs from the one that drove the initial question? And to deliver a notable quotable, if they've got one handy?
Not really, in my opinion, but that's where we live these days. To illustrate that, here's an 'under three minutes' recap' of Tuesday's and Wednesday's debates, courtesy of NBC. And ask yourself, "Are those really the key things I was supposed to have walked away from six hours of television remembering?" And ask yourself this, too: "Why is Marianne Williamson getting so much time in this recap?"
I would much rather hear real discussion on key topics, with 30 minutes or more set aside to have a real debate about the issues that matter. The candidates can be made aware of the topics in advance, but obviously not the questions, so everyone can be prepared for a robust discussion. That's right, a discussion - not an argument or dissection of resumes.
For example, let's have an extended conversation on immigration. I'd like to know where the candidates stand on these questions:
- There are several types of undocumented immigrants, including visa overstays, which outnumber border crossings by around 2-1; people convicted of a crime who have a deportation order; people who have been denied asylum who have a deportation order; and plain old ordinary people who choose to cross the border and disappear into America, but who don't have a deportation order. Do you believe that any of these groups of people should be deported? If yes, which, and if no, why not?
- Would you pursue implementation of the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for the specific population of people who were brought here as children and meet the requirements outlined in the Act?
- Do you believe we need some kind of physical barrier on the southern border? If yes, described what you are willing to support, and if not, explain your reasoning for not supporting it.
- From the following options only, which would be your highest immigration-related priority? Decriminalizing illegal border crossings; fully funding and staffing the immigration courts to eliminate the almost 950.000 case backlog or providing financial and other assistance to Central America's 'Northern Triangle' countries - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. - to help improve safety, increase economic opportunity, and reduce the impetus for asylum seekers and illegal border crossers to come here.
- A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that we transform our southern border into a 2,000 mile series of natural gas, solar, and wind power plants. It also includes using some of the energy to desalinate water from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and share it with border residents and farms. This 'border wall' would be built as a collaboration between the US and Mexico, and through public/private partnerships, and would provide jobs, security, and a physical border all at the same time. Would you support this type of initiative? Explain why or why not.
- The American Farm Bureau opposes the e-Verify system, used by hundreds of thousands of employers to verify work status of employees, saying it threatens the stability and competitiveness of our farmers and ranchers. The AFB proposes two specific reforms to address both short- and long-term needs: a new flexible visa program for farm workers, to be administered by the US Department of Agriculture instead of the Department of Labor, and a pathway to legal status for unauthorized farm workers who meet strict requirements. Would you support and work to implement either of these programs? Explain why or why not.
To me, these are the type of questions that will help us understand what the Dems think about critical immigration issues and, with any luck at all, will give all of us something to talk about. Not only that, it will give everyone a chance to see, with their own eyes, that what the president says the Democrats want, and what they really want, are likely very different animals entirely.
I think this is one of the only ways they will be able to counter his insane tweets and blatant lies. It will also give pollsters a chance to craft good questions for people, and see where the country really stands.
I'll have questions on other topics for long-form debate discussions coming up next week.