Rudy Giuliani

Free to Be YouTube and Me

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Lest anyone doubt that the Republican presidential field is a confederacy of ninnies:

Plans for a CNN/YouTube debate for the GOP seemed to be falling apart Thursday after front-runner Rudy Giuliani said scheduling conflicts would keep him away from the planned Sept. 17 face-off, although an aide said discussions were continuing about a possible alternate date. Formal invitations went out Thursday.

Another top Republican, Mitt Romney, has been cool to the forum's format. "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman," Romney told the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire.

Fair enough: Romney might just be worried about the damage that dripping, melting snow could wreak on his circuitry.

Seriously, though, Republicans would be foolish to wave off their own YouTube debate. I was a skeptic of the format, too, but it turned out to be a fecund source of out-of-the-box questions. The snowman was silly, but was it really a bigger waste of time than Chris Matthews asking the Republican candidates if they wanted Bill Clinton back in the White House? And the questions weren't, as Hugh Hewitt bellows, "overwhelmingly left-biased." Questions about reparations, foreign dictators, Iraq after a U.S. exit and whether the U.S. should be run by two political families were cringe-inducing for the Democrats. If the candidates are pouring sweat, the format's working.

It might be nice for CNN to tweak its format and do less screening of the questions. Make the top-rated or top-viewed questions the ones that Anderson Cooper has to introduce. If it turns out that they're all questions about 9/11 Truth or Bohemian Grove, create some kind of filter: The top-rated video for a series of topics, with no repeats.