Election 2016

Next Time, Make Trump and Clinton—And Johnson and Stein!—Answer Each Other's Questions

Why do we insist on using the "most stupid arrangement of any debate in the history of debating" for presidential candidates?

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YouTube, ABC, screencap

During a 1976 presidential debate between President Gerald Ford and challenger Jimmy Carter—a dreary affair, as were both their presidencies—the audio died, leading to some of the most-embarrassing dead air in the history of American politics.

On the next morning's Today Show, the media theorist Marshall McLuhan was invited to talk with host Tom Brokaw and NBC analyst Edwin Newman about the debate, which was the first presidential debate since Richard Nixon and John Kennedy squared off in 1960. McLuhan minced no words, calling the format "the most stupid arrangement of any debate in the history of debating." Indeed, McLuhan even half-jokingly blamed the technical difficulties on the idea that the machines had gone on strike rather be party to such an awful display ("the medium," he said, "had gone on revolt against the bloody message").

About the best thing you can say about the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is that these days, the machines know their place. But McLuhan's hair probably would have caught on fire watching this spectacle, and for good reason. Let's leave aside for the moment the obvious point that the stage was missing at least one and probably two candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein, who should have been included.

Instead, let's simply focus on the brutal reality that after 90 minutes of back and forth, nobody knows anything more about either candidate than he or she knew going in. The format, essentially the same as the one that angered McLuhan so much back during the Bicentennial Year, precludes any sort of meaningful, candidate-driven questioning. The moderator, NBC's Lester Holt, is a good guy and a decent journalist, but what do we really gain by letting a single journalist write the questions and try to direct traffic? Trump and Clinton talked over each other and ran up and down the alleys of topics like bored kids running up and down the aisles during a Wagner opera.

It would be far better if the two candidates were forced to interrogate one another on whatever issues or topics they want to. That way, we'd not only get a sense of what they stand for from their answers but also from the questions they felt compelled to ask of one another. Instead, tonight we simply heard rehearsed answers about stock questions, many of which are intensely inconsequential. Consider the amount of time wasted discussing Donald Trump's tax returns. No candidate is obligated to release the documents, though most do (Gerald Ford never released his full returns, for instance, and Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan stiffed the public partly on this score too). Trump immediately turned the conversation to Clinton's deleted emails, an equally useless topic unless you are rooting for one or other candidate already. Time wasted talking about tax returns or draperies or emails or stamina means less time to discuss actually substantive issues.

NBC, screen cap

In USA Today, Gary Johnson suggested three questions that he would have asked if he were on the stage tonight. Some of the issues did come up, but not in clear-cut fashion. First, the former governor of New Mexico noted that Clinton had voted for the Iraq War and pushed for action in Libya and elsewhere. "Would you renounce that advocacy, and would you be willing to issue a full pardon to Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on the civil liberties violations that resulted from our war in Iraq?" That's a pretty straightforward and useful question. I know I'd like to hear a straightforward answer. Second, Johnson said that given Trump's plans for building a wall between the United States and Mexico (even though net migration from Mexico peaked years ago), the billionaire should answer the following: "If you want to build a Berlin-style wall, would you also advocate for ending the exportation of America's draconian War on Drugs to Mexico, where we have squandered hundreds of millions of dollars involving ourselves in Mexican affairs, contributing to the murder of tens of thousands of Mexicans?" Again, that's the sort of question that calls for pretty specific answers, isn't it? A respondent who prevaricates or starts talking about other topics would be saying plenty.

Finally, Johnson had a question for both of the candidates, about the dreadful fiscal problems facing the government. This is a topic that barely was mentioned in tonight's debate and only in terms that allowed both Clinton and Trump to paint their own realities. The facts are pretty straightforward: Clinton would indeed raise taxes a lot and proposes spending more than Trump. Trump raises spending a bit but mostly cuts taxes in a way that, according to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, will vastly increase projected debt totals. The important thing, though, is that neither candidate even pretends to address budget realities. As Matt Welch has put it, both candidates are "debt denialists." Johnson's query for Clinton and Trump is as follows:

The most important fiscal challenge facing our government is reforming entitlements for the elderly, Social Security and Medicare. Both of you were born in the first two years of the Baby Boom, 1946 and 1947. That made you eligible for full Social Security benefits at 66, and Medicare at 65. The first birth year of the Millennial generation was 1980. Under current law, Millennials can receive full Social Security benefits at 67, just one year greater than early Baby Boomers, and they'll also get Medicare at 65.

To preserve the Social Security safety net and to assure solvency of Medicare, would each of you pledge to raise the full benefits retirement age for Millennials and the age for Medicare benefits by just a year, or possibly two? Millennial workers paying for Boomer's retirement today are worried there will be no Social Security or Medicare when they reach their sixties.

That's a good set of questions, isn't it? And wouldn't tonight's debate, which was full of sound and fury and unsuccessful attempts by Holt to keep things from going sideways, have been a more meaningful affair if Gary Johnson had been able to directly ask them of his rivals? Those questions tell us a lot about his priorities, and Clinton's, Trump's, and Stein's answers would have been worth listening to as well. And it would be nice to hear what Clinton would have asked, Trump would have asked, and Stein would have asked.

But instead, we were treated to a display that was neither revelatory nor substantive, really. The media (and, to be fair, all of us on Twitter and Facebook and everything else) are rushing to anoint one winner and polish the best one-liners that show our candidate as the victor supreme.

Whatevs. Clinton and Trump are each disliked by about 60 percent of the country and each is pulling in the low 40-percent range. Assuming that Johnson and Stein don't see too much of a decline in support between now and November, about 90 percent of us are spoken for. There wasn't a lot on display tonight to help that 10 percent of undecided voters figure out what to do next. Part of that is because two national candidates weren't allowed on a debate stage run only for the benefit of Republicans and Democrats. Part of it is because we are still stuck in the '70s, using "the most stupid arrangement of any debate in the history of debating."

It's a new century, for god's sake, and we deserve a new way of seeing how presidential candidates think and what they think is important. Letting all legitimate candidates—read: those who are on enough ballots to theoretically win, or those who are polling at 5 percent, the level needed to qualify for federal matching funds—on stage would be a great first step. Making the candidates ask and answer one another's questions would be a great second step.

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  1. “…Trump immediately turned the conversation to Clinton’s deleted emails, an equally useless topic unless you are rooting for one or other candidate already….”

    Nope.
    A SoS destroying evidence is in no way equivalent to a candidate withholding tax data. The first it a crime.

    1. Statements like that are how Nick copes with the insults directed at him, I’d imagine. Secret Republican libertarian Trump supporters.

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    2. Yeah, he really showed his true colors here. Evading public records laws would presumably be a big deal even in libertopia.

    3. Useless because everyone knows about it and are either in the imprison camp or the Hillary could do no wrong camp. It adds next to nothing meaningful, just serves as a dog whistle

      1. So the Secretary of State set up her own e-mail server in order to evade open record laws and congressional oversight. While at the same time time her charity organization was raking millions of dollars in foreign donations from foreign governments that needed approval from the State Department. And hey, wouldn’t you know they got State Department approval.

        That’s not a dog whistle, that’s a British cop whistling for back-up.

    4. We don’t need no stinking ideas.

    5. We don’t need no stinking ideas.

      1. I think that it’s chipmunks, not squirrels.

  2. “The moderator, NBC’s Lester Holt, is a good guy and a decent journalist”

    Oh for crying out loud.

    If he was those things, he did his best to hide it during the debate and played the part of Democratic hack to perfection.

    1. Lester is a better moderator than Nick, which is not saying much.

  3. And wouldn’t tonight’s debate, which was full of sound and fury and unsuccessful attempts by Holt to keep things from going sideways

    Lester Holt is the one who took it sideways. Birtherism and a lawsuit from the 70s aren’t issues, they’re sideshows that can’t really be debated.

    1. The lawsuit from the 70s was brought up by Hillary.

      Trump could have dispensed with the birther thing in 2 seconds but chose to run with it.

    2. Unlike Juannita Broadderick, who is an issue.

      1. Was she discussed?

        Only in your alt-reality.

  4. “Make Clinton and trump answer questions”

    Nope. My favorite parts were where Clinton was laughing at the Trumpster. I watched the debates in a public place and the reaction was more hilarity than serious consideration. Good stuff. I hope the next time is more of the same.

    1. american socialist|9.27.16 @ 12:44AM|#
      “…I watched the debates in a public place and the reaction was more hilarity than serious consideration…”

      Yep, I’m sure you chose a ‘neutral’ audience, right, asswipe?
      Paid your mortgage yet? Hoping for more free shit? How pathetic can you be?

      1. No, most of the audience seemed to be composed of thoughtful people who know the issues. They didn’t seem too concerned with Mexican immigrants or the perfidy of trade with China. You seem upset, bro. You mad?

        1. A thought wafting into the brain of one of the dozen socialists gathered around AmSoc’s tiny Soviet-built ?????? 401… then quickly leaving for want of another to keep it company…

          =

          “thoughtful people”

        2. American Socialist =
          No, most of the audience seemed to be composed of thoughtful people who know the issues.

          How about the issue of War.
          Why does it seem that no matter which major party is in power that the USA is always at war with countries that are not a threat?

          1. Why does it seem that no matter which major party is in power that the USA is always at war with countries that are not a threat?
            A long answer is too long for this format.

            Short answer? Reality is complicated and there are more stakeholders in positions of power then just the president.

      2. Who gives a shit? Just mail in the keys. Contract fulfilled.

  5. “Donald Trump complains that his mic was defective.”

    http://www.latimes.com/nation/…..story.html

    Yeah, it was on. Big mistake.

  6. AC isn’t here, so I’m posting one of his music videos.

  7. All the time you spend tryin’ to get back what’s been took from you there’s more goin’ out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it.

  8. “What do we really gain by letting a single journalist write the questions and try to direct traffic?”

    Whatever narrative that journalist wants us to gain?

    And again, they don’t include Johnson or Stein because they want to protect the two party system and keep alternative ideas out of the public awareness.

    At least that’s what I think.

    1. You think with your hippocampus. Or not at all.

  9. The biggest disappointment was that Trump didn’t make a bigger deal out of Hillary’s ethical issues. That’s the issue on which she is most vulnerable, and he hardly even took any shots. Criticize Holt all you want, but it isn’t Holt’s fault that Trump completely missed the opportunity to go after Hillary’s email server when when Holt set that up on a silver platter by making the topic about cyber-security. How could Trump miss a layup like that?

    I tend to be a ‘look at the bright side’ kind of guy, and if there is a pony anywhere under all this horseshit, maybe it’s this: everybody is talking about how Trump didn’t go after Hillary for her email server and the Clinton Foundation. The next best thing to everybody talking about how Trump completely skewered Hillary over her ethics is probably everybody talking about how Trump failed to skewer her over her horrible ethics.

    Maybe it doesn’t matter so much about how people get there. Maybe it just matters that Hillary’s ethics is what people are talking about.

    1. Isn’t this the bright side, ken? Trump was shown to be a charlatan and a liar and was pretty much told he was one to his face. Good stuff. I hope there’s more. How much will trump and his little brigade of asshole advisors bitch about Lester Holt, I wonder. Will it be 22 or 23.9 hrs out of the day?

      1. Hillary Clinton took money from foreign governments while she was the Secretary of State.

        “In all, governments and corporations involved in the arms deals approved by Clinton’s State Department have delivered between $54 million and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the Clinton family, according to foundation and State Department records.”

        —-Mother Jones

        http://www.motherjones.com/pol…..arms-deals

        She can never enjoy anything like legitimacy as an executive–not even if she wins the election.

      2. “In political science, legitimacy is the right and acceptance of an authority, usually a governing law or a r?gime . . . . An authority viewed as legitimate often has the right and justification to exercise power. Political legitimacy is considered a basic condition for governing, without which a government will suffer legislative deadlock(s) and collapse. In political systems where this is not the case, unpopular r?gimes survive because they are considered legitimate by a small, influential ?lite.[1]

        In moral philosophy, the term “legitimacy” is often positively interpreted as the normative status conferred by a governed people upon their governors’ institutions, offices, and actions, based upon the belief that their government’s actions are appropriate uses of power by a legally constituted government.[2]”

        http://tinyurl.com/j6kzjyx

        You cannot take money from foreign governments while Secretary of State and also enjoy anything like legitimacy as President. The laws she enforces, the laws she signs, . . .

        Don’t confuse it with unpopularity. I don’t think we’ve seen an illegitimate President since the Civil War. Nixon came close. If he hadn’t resigned and survived impeachment, he might have lost his legitimacy.

        But Hillary will walk into office that way if she wins.

        1. The Tilden/Hayes election was very likely corrupt, with the Reps essentially telling the Dems, shut up about how we stole the election, and we’ll end Reconstruction, allowing the donkoids to extinguish black voting rights and create the Solid South.

          1. Perhaps I should have written that, “I don’t think we’ve seen an illegitimate President since the Civil War [the end of Reconstruction]”. Regardless, illegitimacy hasn’t been an issue for the United States in a long time, and if Hillary wins, that’s what we’ll be looking at.

            I might also suggest that the kind of illegitimacy we’re talking about with Hillary Clinton is fundamentally different from questioning whether some candidate really won the election. Stuffing the electoral college is one thing; quite another when the person who won is simply unacceptable.

        2. If she’s able to walk.

  10. Marshall McLuhan? You don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan’s work.

    That’s funny, because I happen to have Mr McLuhan right here…..

    1. +1 Annie Hall

  11. Just like Bernie the socialist said, Nick is damn tired hearing about Hillary’s emails! He wants substance!

    He wants real questions! About the issues! But not about email issues! Or why Hillary is somehow exempt from federal laws because of our two-tiered justice system!

    No one cares! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!

    We should have Jill Stein and Gary talk about their views on abortion!

    Yeah!

    1. I mean, totes whatevs, right fellow millennial? It’s, like, she didn’t, like, do anything wrong. Who doesn’t, like, delete some old ass emails, right?

      /Nick trying to fuck Hofstra co-ed

    2. +1 who gives a fuck

    3. Yes, Bernie the socialist is now supporting the war monger Hitlery Clinton who also supports the racist and un Constitutional war on drugs.

      Bernie the socialist is a man of principle who is now supporting Hitlery Clinton the racist war monger.

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  13. I’ve been all for it. Real Republicans should have gone for this format long before Trump rolled in. Unfortunately, most presidential candidates are pussies.

  14. I think you’re delusional thinking candidates asking each other questions would lead to them asking meaningful, substantive questions rather than whatever makes for good campaign fodder talking points. The problem I think is letting TV “journalists” ask the questions because they’re only interested in sound-bite answers to gotcha questions. Have some long-form magazine writers ask questions that might require a ten-minute answer and see how fast people stop watching the boring-ass debates where candidates actually have to give complete, thoughtful, nuanced answers.

    But try to remember – in 2000, what were the differences between Bush and Gore on the issue of Muslims flying hijacked planes into skyscrapers? All the questions on where they stand on the issues only gives you some idea of how they might handle whatever issues come up while they’re in office, you elect whoever you trust most to deal with whatever comes up without knowing what might come up. Some specific question on some past issue only matters insofar as it gives you a clue as to how they might handle future events and you can glean as much insight into that by looking at other examples of their actions and character. Does Hillary tip well at restaurants? Does Trump only polish the fronts of his shoes? What difference do silly questions make? Well, it gives some clue to their character, how they act when nobody’s looking.

  15. Hillary telling her Secret Service agent to fuck off pretty much sealed the deal for me. I’d never vote for that fat unhealthy POS.

    1. However, she may win because of meat flaps.

  16. Yeah, letting these two asshats ask each other questions is gonna be really helpful for getting answers:

    Trump: So, how many felonies did you commit with the emails?

    Hillary: The women, minorities, and LGBT supporters I have who are totally not going to vote for you are tired of you bringing up old issues that have been settled. Why do you hate women and minorities and LGBT voters?

  17. America’s Fascist mayor, Rudy Giuliani, assuring us that stop-and-frisk is constitutional on TV this morning. Yes, that is what how rule of law dying sounds like.

  18. Episode 273 in which Nick cucksplains how he plans to avoid the deplorables.

    So sad to see a former journalist go mad – like watching 40-yr old Willie Mays embarrassing himself.

    1. “cuck” and “deplorables”…. Someone light the dumbass Trump supporter signal!

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  21. Why do we insist on using the “most stupid arrangement of any debate in the history of debating” for presidential candidates?

    Because these are not debates. The “debates” are politics’ version of professional wrestling.

    Generations from now, historians will refer to the next several years as “our long national nightmare”.

  22. RE: Next Time, Make Trump and Clinton – And Johnson and Stein! – Answer Each Other’s Questions
    Why do we insist on using the “most stupid arrangement of any debate in the history of debating” for presidential candidates?

    Wouldn’t it be just simpler to have the candidates read the answer from 3X5 cards and then have the moderator ask the question (like they do on Jeapordy) for the sake of convenience?
    It save a lot of time.

  23. I haven’t watched last night’s debate yet?, but generally speaking, the moderators for presidential debates do try to get the candidates to directly talk to each other, directly respond, and directly ask questions. The problem is, the candidates don’t want to do that.

    If all they wanted was a space to directly confront each other, that could be arranged at any time. Heck, they could do a Google Hangout where they’re the active participants and everyone else can passively listen/watch. But they don’t want that. They want a moderator, they want the format, and so-on.

    And that’s not something you can blame on the moderator. The debates are as pointless as they are because that’s what the candidates want.

    ?And honestly, I doubt I will. I’m voting for Gary Johnson regardless so what the fuck do I care?

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  26. next time…Trump/Clinton…NAKED JELLO WRESTLING!!!!

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