The Absolutely Best Debate

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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?


16 responses to “The Absolutely Best Debate

  1. And if they both override, silence? They would have all their material on their own sites for ease of reference. The greatest impact being early then late suggests an interesting dynamic with shorter than planned debates. One with positive reinforcement might be more effective.

  2. Doesn’t seem like a candidate would choose to turn attention to the computer instead of listening to and preparing to respond to their opponent.

  3. Gary Ostrower

    Much too complicated. Do the 1992 thing, when Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton teed off on a debate stage. The “moderator,” Phil Donahue, introduced them and then just walked off the stage.

  4. Howard Russ Zimmerman

    I like having no moderator. (Isn’t that the Lincoln-Douglas format?) But I doubt the candidates, much less the viewer, can master this system.
    The debate organizers are not really interested in improving the system. If they were they would have a moderator who asked the same question to each candidate. I each had 2 minutes to answer, the mike being used would turn off at 2 minutes and the other mike would go on for 2 minutes. Indeed, each candidate should be put in an air conditioned glass cubicle (unless you want to see them sweat) as used on the $64,000 question. That way we would only hear the “contestant” whose mike was turned on. The fun would be seeing the one trying to interrupt turn red.

    At the end of two minutes each would have one minute to explain why the other proposal was stupid or would not work or why it was not an answer to the question. That is 6 minutes per question. And the next question should not be a “follow on,” as some moderators call them. Let’s have a new question.

    The likelihood of your suggestion or mine being followed is zero, though I like the simplicity of mine.

    I d

  5. Now that the democratic ship is sinking fast, expect them dig deep for the dirt needed to win the debate under any format.

  6. Ray LaPan-Love

    I like the rules, essentially. A moderator is needed though and one with questions which are carefully devised to include implications. If a candidate for example advocates a higher minimum wage. He must then be asked ‘all’ of the germane questions that apply: Does this mean you intend to devaluate the currency to increase exports? If not, does this this mean that Americans must consume more, import less? If then, ‘import less’, is the answer, does the candidate therefore intend to apply tariffs? And so on, then once that candidate has been made to clearly establish his or her position, then the other candidate could be given equal time to argue an opposing view on the same issue.

    This needs to be given more time however, the way things are done now we just keep hearing, or reading, the same sound bite nonsense over and over. HRC for example, (and Bernie before her), has advocated raising the minimum wage without ever mentioning any of the above implications in detail, and there are still participation rate concerns and so on. Each issue might even require a moderator with an applicable expertise. In any case though, if the entire debate is required to cover just one issue, well…then so be it. But the convenient excuse of ‘limited time’ has created a process which allows for half-baked promises to become the everything of our political process. And just how ‘limited’ can time be in a campaigns that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

    (sorry for picking on the Dems here)

  7. I want more yellow journalism screeming at me, but about important “presidential temperament” qualifications – like who is more greedy.

    There are 7 deadly sins afoot in society…

  8. The most accurate prediction from the 5th comment above: “Now that the democratic ship is sinking fast, expect them dig deep for the dirt needed to win the debate under any format.”

    We need moderators, plus a technician to turn the mike off after candidate speaks beyond their allotted time in the debate, as flashing yellow and red lights have proven not to work (same goes for Congressional speeches on the floor of the Senate and House; their mike gets cut off after the allotted time expires). For every second the candidate goes over their allotted time even after the mike is turned off, each second x 3 is added to the opponent’s time; e.g. 30 seconds x 3 = 90 additional seconds added to the opponent’s allotted time. – open/close quotes:

    7) Bernie oppo; In October 2015, just as Sanders’ campaign was starting to pick up steam, Tony Carrk emailed colleagues a list of potential points to use against the Vermont senator. The email, with the subject line “PLS REVIEW: Sanders Hits” featured paragraphs of potential lines of attack against Sanders on labor and the environment, a 1994 crime bill, gun control, gay marriage, and the environment. The Clinton campaign ended up using some of the potential attacks, like Sanders supporting the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which blocked regulating credit default swaps, while also bashing repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Another point proposes attacking Sanders on spending.
    ” Sen. Sanders has not told the American people how much his plans will cost and how he will pay for them. When asked for specifics, he demurs. When other estimates show trillions in new spending, he simply rejects them without offering his own estimate,” Carrk wrote.
    8) Sounding ‘Pro-Keystone’
    In the speech excerpts, Clinton-allied researchers flagged her positive remarks about the Keystone XL Pipeline and trade, made well before she came out against the pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal…..

  9. A modest proposal:
    1. each candidate is in a separate, large, air-conditioned and sound-proof box; they can sit, or stand at a lectern, or walk around within this box
    2. a question goes to candidate A; candidate B’s microphone is turned off
    3. the same question goes to candidate B; candidate A’s microphone is turned off
    4. if you want rebuttals, then A rebuts first, with B’s microphone off
    5. then B rebuts second, with A’s microphone off
    6. when a candidate’s answering time expires, his/her microphone is automatically cut off; no extra time granted if in mid-sentence; a 15-second (or similar) warning beep is given before the time expires; if a candidate does not want to use all of his/her time to answer a question, he/she can manually turn off his microphone, from within his/her box
    7. to discourage non-answers, this rule could be added: the moderator, if he feels that the question that was asked was not addressed in the candidate’s answer, can so state that opinion, just after that candidate’s time expires; the offending candidate is not granted any extra time to improve his/her answer, but could attempt to do so in his/her rebuttal time for this question
    8. to discourage segways into off-topic areas by a candidate, this rule could be added: the moderator, if he feels that the candidate’s answer, or part of his/her answer was off-topic, can so state that opinion, just after that candidate’s time expires. Censoring such off-topic answers in real-time would be very difficult, but could be done if the debate were recorded, edited by the moderator or a team of moderators, and played back on the air, with noted censoring of off-topic replies and non-responsive replies.
    9. the questions for the candidates should be gathered from the general public’s input in many venues (e.g. social media, and a web site dedicated to gathering questions), plus subject-expert input, and vetted, filtered, and prioritized by a panel of moderators.

  10. These are not ‘debates’ in any sense. They are simply attempts to land a ‘zinger’ that dominates the internet social apps and news cycle for a day or so. That’s true not just of this election cycle, but has been that way for years. Insults have ALWAYS won over substance.
    I say – dump the whole bogus idea of so-called ‘debates’.

  11. I think once you interrupt the cost should be 2-1 until you turn your mic off again. You shouldn’t benefit from shouting someone into turning their mic off.

  12. A mixed martial arts cage seems more currently appropriate.


  14. 11days between posts and we get this? This was a waste of a post and disappointing. I expect to be let down by the debates, come on guys…geez

  15. @SJS – you are correct. It wasn’t a debate, at all. It was a carefully contrived 48 hour baseball bat wielding zombie attack trying to put Trump down for good during the televised “event”.

    Real psycho zone shenanigans going on now….the grab for power….

    How can normal-minded, common sense life experience peoples of the Planet NOT question a One World Order establishing itself over us that is lacking in the knowledge required for Peace and Prosperity governance of the Planet?

    Thanks for the mental masturbation session. Going forward I will be all ears to the pronouncements coming from the Money God.

    Criminals establishing their lawlessness as laws that do not apply to law abiding citizens. Meaning if you do it, it’s illegal. You know, big money stuff like kiddie porn and chemical “treatments” atop a merciless psychology deciding “the fittest” survival.

    Not kidding about being thrown back to one million BC. The differential is just that great. But if we have an 18 trillion $$$$ fiat economy that coughed up only 38,000 new jobs in May, then I doubt math will be of any help in preventing the 1,000,000 year throw back bought and paid for with 18,000,000,000,000 fiat $$$$s.

  16. Now that the debate is over and Hillary says Donald is not qualified to be president and she just wants to follow the law, and he says she would most likely be in jail if he were president, not realizing that the FBI, DOJ, NSA, and DEA are just as guilty of obstructing wisdom as the common drug criminal, now the proof that the Federal Reserve was created illegally is becoming more obvious with each passing day, it’s creation has lead to nothing except the raising of the cost of living to the consumer, and a study of human denial. Items of convenience are no reason to risk personal bankruptcy, even during the birth of the industrial age.

    It would appear the jeckle island conference crafted a formula to control the masses financially after learning they were about to permanently lose control of moneys left behind by Nathaniel Hawthorn and Mark Twain(who had recently passed shortly after the panic of 1907 ensued) the fear and greed factor entered the equation. The moneys were invested in stocks and about to be placed into foreign hands, the names and hands were a trusted source of integrity, and the new federals were none to happy about the money and determined to gain control of these finances at any cost, including all the events which lead to WW1. Prior to WW1 the cost of living in London had remained the same from the great fire of 1666, until the beginning of WW1, since then it has only risen.

    Everything about the Fed was derived to deceive, hide, and then control, at any cost.
    In public as the fed blesses its food, privately they have a congratulatory toast over the meal they dominate and are about to consume. The private side of the fed is broken and dysfunctional, the public side is just as broken but not quite as dysfunctional. The private side of the fed serves up blind injustice, the public side just serves injustice. The public side of the Fed hides the private side of the financial eugenics Fed, but behind closed doors acts in unison to further their formula tic goals.
    As time passed the beneficiary’s names remained the same, but the integrity of the hands changed, a dual purpose formula where the beneficiary’s either didn’t need the money, so the Federals could decide it’s fate, or they didn’t meet the strict federal formula and would lose control of the assets in this fashion.
    All the acts of Federal Reserve were illegal, but yesterday politicians as with today’s, were/are just as gullible to the chosen few and laws were blindly made and followed with a sky’s the limit attitude toward complete and utter control of the financial system, if the stated goal of price stability was the purpose of the Federal Reserve, they failed miserably by the looking at the cost of living in London over time, creating wars to maintain financial control is no way to achieve price stability.
    Now the private side of the fed has always publicly stated that it’s their intention to keep the assets from these individuals and divert them to other, more democratically controlled sources. And they care not of the origin of the money, just the formula that was not followed. The public side of the fed is as lost to the origin of the money as the private side and only has to follow its private members lead, but it actions do not look as good publicly as it does privately. Three can keep a secret, but only if two are dead.

    There is really not much that can be done about it right now until the gvt default arrives, the gold std is returned, and the Fed is audited to either pony up its share of metals, or be abolished and lose control of its say of the money system to the congress where it rightfully belongs, the latter is my educated guess.
    If King Fed has no guilt, then why is the king always wanting to switch meals with the servants?