Debates need some new rules

I wish the debates were really debates. What we have seen this political season are more akin to forums, places where candidates are given free rein to trade jabs with their opponents.

Some 80 million Ameri­cans tuned in for the first “debate” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. About half that many watched the two vice-presidential hopefuls go at it last week. A second top-of-the-ticket event took place this past Sunday. At press time, the numbers were not available from that shouting match.

Though people will tell you they are interested in hearing about important issues, I believe they really just want to see a good fight. Longtime CBS political pundit Bob Schiefer said it was “wrestlemania.” Americans seem to like it when the Democrat and Republican nominees interrupt each other, though parents usually chide their children for doing so. Each side normally hopes the other makes a critical gaff, says something monumentally stupid. This year, however, that doesn’t seem to make any difference anyhow.

I have a few suggestions for bringing more substance to the so-called debates.

First, I would turn off the microphone of the person who does not have the floor while the other is speaking. I detest the fact that the moderator lays out the rules of engagement at the start of the session, then sits back and lets the participants systematically break them.

The audio should also be cut the second the speaker passes his or her allotted time. Two minutes is not a lot of time, so candidates often go beyond the limit. This should not be allowed. If the speaker was cut off in mid-sentence a couple of times, he or she would begin paying more attention to the limit. And, as a bonus, one politician could not whine about being cut off more abruptly than the other.

Second, the participants should not be on camera at the same time. The eye rolling, smirking and head shaking is something we expect teenagers to do, not grown men and women. The rest of the world is also watching, and this lack of respect the participants show each other is sending a message of discord.

My third suggestion is to have live fact checking scrolling on the bottom of the screen. I know it is possible. National Public Radio has been doing it. Why can’t the TV people? I don’t believe blatantly incorrect statements should be allowed to slide.

In addition, once a debater has made a point, he or she should not be allowed to repeat that claim during the course of the same event. That would keep the subject matter fresh.

If candidates run out of material, networks could cut away to late night talk show hosts for their commentary. Their remarks are much more insightful. In fact, I would like to see Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver provide live tweets in real time.

To be perfectly honest, I have not watched a complete debate this election. Like Major League Base­ball’s National League wildcard game between the New York Mets and the San Fran­cisco Giants last week, I can’t find all that much to like about either side.

Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro Middle/High School. He can be reached at

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