Presidential debate details announced
Monday, Aug 16, 2004
Apparently this came out three days ago, but I hadn't seen mentioned yet in the press or blogsphere. The Commission on Presidential Debates has finalized the times, places, and formats of the three presidential debates and the one vice-presidential debate.

Of note:

  • All of the debates save one are to be conducted at a table with the moderator and the two candidates.
  • The remaining debate (second presidential) will be in a 'town hall' environment, where the candidates will be asked questions from the audience, who will consist of St. Loius-area undecided voters as selected by the Gallup polling organization.
  • To be eligible for debate participation, a candidate must be eligible for president, be on enough state ballots to provide a mathematical possibility of electoral majority, and have at least 15% of the popular vote as established by an average of five polls from different polling organizations just prior to the candidate announcement deadline (that is to say, unless Nader quintuples his support, it's Kerry and Bush at the table)

To my mind, this debate format favors Bush. He's always stronger speaking in the informal environment that a table-chat affords, and this environment inhibits direct accusations. Try to picture Lloyd Bentsen belittling Dan Quayle, saying "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." while sitting face to face with the person. How powerful would Bush Sr. have sounded saying "Read my lips: 'No New Taxes'" if it had been said from Leno's guest chair instead of standing in front of the flag? A podium fosters the feeling of accountability, of gravitas.

Sitting at a table is humbling; It's everyday; It inhibits the possibility of a powerful soundbyte extolling a vision, and turns the debate into a messier trio crowded around a table where the moderator has a far greater influence on how the audience interprets the show.

A Lincoln-Douglass debate this is not. Larry King, more like.

At any rate, I'm excited to see each candidate given questions from the other, instead of the softballs lobbed their way by sycophants who have to sign pledges of support before they can even get in the auditorium.

Hopefully September and October will now produce some television worth TiVoing.

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