By James Kwak
Judging from my Twitter feed, there is one thing that we all agree on after the first two debates (including Kaine-Pence): the moderators are useless. They ask dumb questions, they don’t ask important questions, they can’t get the candidates to answer the questions anyway, they don’t call out the candidates when they lie (OK, this mainly applies to one of the candidates), etc.
So … let’s get rid of the moderators!
Here’s my idea. No moderator. Each candidate gets a lectern, a microphone, and a computer. (More about the computer later.) Each microphone has an on/off switch. You can turn on your microphone whenever you want, but it can only be on for a total of 45 minutes, with the following rules.
- If neither microphone is on, and you turn yours on, you are the Talker. When you are the Talker, time counts against you second-for-second: If you talk for 30 seconds, your counter goes down by 30 seconds.
- If your opponent is the Talker, and you turn your microphone on to talk at the same time, you are the Interruptor. When you are the Interruptor, your time counts against you two-for-one: If you interrupt for 30 seconds, your counter goes down by 1 minute. During that time, your opponent’s counter goes down only 30 seconds, if she continues talking. If your opponent turns off her microphone, you become the Talker.
- Your microphone cannot be on continuously for more than 3 minutes. When you turn it off (or when it shuts off automatically after 3 minutes), you cannot turn it on for 10 seconds. This is to eliminate the trick of quickly turning your microphone off and on to reclaim the status of Talker.
- Rules 1 and 2 give an advantage to whoever turns her microphone on first. To avoid a race, the debate is divided into 15-minute segments, and the candidates alternate who gets to begin each segment. The other candidate can interrupt immediately, but would then be the Interruptor (and lose time at twice the rate of the Talker).
- At any time, either candidate can press an override button that disables the other person’s microphone. You can hold down the override button for up to 1 minute, after which it becomes unusable for 1 minute. While you are holding the override button down, your time counts against you three-for-one: If you override for 1 minute, your counter goes down by 3 minutes. (You can use the override button to extend your microphone’s life beyond the ordinary 3-minute limit.)
So what would happen? There is an advantage to being the Talker, but you can only be the Talker for up to 3 minutes. During that time, the other person can Interrupt, but pays a big penalty on the clock. So ordinarily the Talker should control the floor for up to 3 minutes, with the other person making only short interruptions. When the Talker stops, the other person has 10 seconds to turn her microphone on and become the new Talker. At any time, if you really, really need to make a point directly to the American people, you can press the override button to do it. But if you get so infuriated that you need to constantly Interrupt your opponent, you’ll run out of time and she will get the last 20 minutes all to herself.
What about the computer? The computer is for fact-checking.
The debate will be televised in split-screen, with half the screen for each candidate. At any time, each candidate can choose whether to use her half for a traditional video image of her, or for the screen of her computer. The computer will only have a web browser on it, which the candidate can use to display whatever she wants from the Internet. The domain name will be magnified, so viewers can clearly see the source of whatever is in the browser. The browser will not have bookmarks, to make it harder to create fake versions of the New York Times and show those during the debate. (That is, candidates will have to use a search engine to find their sources, unless they have prodigious memories.)
What do you think?