Thursday, October 09, 2008

Re: A New Modest Proposal: The Questions At The So-Called Debates Should Reflect The Answers, Since The Answers Will Not Reflect The Questions.

October 9, 2008

Re: A New Modest Proposal: The Questions At The So-Called Debates
Should Reflect The Answers, Since The Answers Will Not Reflect The Questions.

I would like to make, in Swiftian words, a modest proposal. This one is half in jest, but also half meant.

Everyone know that straightforwardness, direct answers to questions, and honesty are pretty much dead in this country, right? We know too in this regard that, even if debates are a good way to arrive at truth -- which may be dubious because of their format, their emphasis on winning rather than truth, and their gotcha quality -- the purported “debates” between the candidates are not in fact debates. As some have realized for decades, and as even the fool mainstream media is beginning to understand and say (especially after Sarah Palin), they are merely talking point speeches on the same general subjects by two people who often do not address either the question that was asked or the points made by the opponent. It is dishonest, and to the viewer frustrating, when these talking point speeches are called debates.

So here is my only-half-in-jest suggestion. Moderators should not ask questions which candidates (dishonestly) will not answer and will instead use merely as springboards to their talking points. That is, moderators should not, for example, ask concrete questions such as can we win the war in Iraq and if so how, or will the bailout help to overcome our economic difficulties or will it also be necessary to lessen mortgage payments, or should the government pay for the healthcare of persons who cannot afford it. Instead, moderators should simply say such things as, “Senator, tell us for two minutes whatever you wish about the war in Iraq.” Or “Governor, tell us whatever you wish for two minutes about the bailout,” or about healthcare, or about any other subject the moderator wants the candidate to speak on. The candidate could then launch into his or her talking points, just as he or she will do anyway when the current types of questions are asked. But at least there will be no dishonest pretense that a debate is going on, or that candidates are trying to answer the questions that are asked, or that each candidate is responding to the other’s points as in a true debate.

The candidates are not going to change. Regardless of what the question is, they are going to continue to repair to talking points just as they have for decades. (One can see the wheels of the “candidatorial” mind turning: “Ah hah. Tom [or Gwen or Jim or whoever] is asking a question dealing with Iraq. So I must say the following six things regardless of what the question is.”) Since the candidates won’t change, and won’t tailor their answers to the actual questions, for honesty’s sake why don’t we change the questions, why don’t we tailor the questions to the type of answers that we know are coming. Tailoring the questions to the answers sounds backwards, no? Yet, since we know what kinds of answers inevitably are coming, why continue trying to kid anyone with the current type of questions. Instead, let the questions reflect the answers because otherwise the answers won’t reflect the questions. If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, let the mountain come to Mohammed. The suggestion sounds bizarre, but it reflects reality and honesty instead of reflecting what rarely if ever occurs and thus reflecting implicit dishonesty.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at

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