The Republican Presidential Debates for 2016 Need to Be Better

December 14th, 2012

By Dan Miller

The 2011 – 2012 debates were a disaster. This is a modest proposal for changes “we can believe in.” They are needed if Republicans are to win the presidency in 2016.

The VoiceFor reasons which need not detain us except to note that they seemed initially to have had nothing to do with debates among political hopefuls, I tried to watch a The Voice segment on YouTube. Alas, it is unavailable in my viewing area. An alternative was to consult Wikipedia, according to which The Voice is a “reality” talent competition.

The series consists of three phases: a blind audition, a battle phase, and live performance shows. Four judges/coaches, all noteworthy recording artists, choose teams of contestants through a blind audition process. Each judge has the length of the auditioner’s performance (about ninety seconds) to decide if he or she wants that singer on his or her team. If two or more judges want the same singer (as happens frequently), the singer has the final choice of coach.

Each team of singers is mentored and developed by its respective coach. In the second stage, called the battle phase, coaches have two of their team members battle against each other directly by singing the same song together, with the coach choosing which team member to advance from each of individual “battles” into the first live round. Within that first live round, the surviving acts from each team again compete head-to-head, with public votes determining one of two acts from each team that will advance to the final six, while the coach chooses which of the remaining three acts comprises the other performer remaining on the team.

In the final phase, the remaining contestants compete against each other in live broadcasts for the public’s vote. The coaches have the power to save one contestant that had not received the public’s vote that week. As of season two, these contestants would give a last chance performance to win their coach’s save. However, in deciding who moves on to the final four phase, the television audience and the coaches have equal say 50/50. With one team member remaining for each coach, the contestants compete against each other in the finale where the outcome is decided solely by public vote.

It soon became clear that a The Voice structure would be a major improvement for current political debates, now passé.

The next round of Republican debates will be here too soon.

Republican Primary CandidatesWe should already have begun preparing for the next presidential election, less than four years away. Having had the good fortune to watch many of the 2011 and 2012 Republican presidential debates, The Voice’s format struck me as inherently based on reality and therefore the only way to select the most realistic showman candidate likely to win the election. As an alternative, we could try to do serious stuff. However, that requires substantial thought, time, money and effort. This modest proposal does not.

The Voice is widely viewed and must therefore be very entertaining; debates based on it will be as well. They will also reveal the politically most important personal characteristics of each candidate — his* smoothness, congeniality, flexibility and well-rounded personality in general. Although crucial in determining how each candidate would behave should he be elected President, they were inadequately spotlighted during the previous debates. Debates based on The Voice, modified only slightly as outlined below, will be substantially more informative, entertaining and appreciated by larger audiences drawn from the biggest tents possible. They will promote the glories of the Republican Party with no divisive demands for self-flagellation.

The present Republican leaders in Washington, instead of hiding under a rock, have taken to standing on the rock and demanding conservatives self flagellate. Neither John Boehner nor Mitch McConnell are visionaries. They are survivors. They survive by recognizing the biggest threat to them and trying to befriend it or neutralize it.

Right now, both see conservatives as their biggest threat, not Barack Obama. Why? Because while Barack Obama maintains the White House, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell maintain their positions of power. They exist for power, not for vision. The visions they articulate are routinely backpedaled. Remember the pledge to nowhere the House Republicans concocted in 2010 as a second coming of the Contract With America? Within two months of returning to the majority they’d already ditched their pledge faster than a frat boy fleeing a one night stand. Only conservatives wish to hold them accountable for their breach of trust, thus conservatives are the threat.

The very same Republican leadership who paved the way for the rise of the Democrats in 2006 through moral opaqueness on the role of government in the lives of Americans now seek to shut up and shut out the conservatives who continue to loudly point out that the size and scope of the federal leviathan has grown too unwieldy. More troubling, with the removal of the several of the critics within the party from key committees and a clear message that loud voices of conservatism will not get plumb [sic] committee assignments, the incoming freshman class and even the current conservative leaders in the House of Representatives have rolled over.

A format based on The Voices will also be in instrumental in bringing to pass the happy prophecy of W.H. Auden’s poem about an unknown citizen:

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Here’s how the debates will work.

There will be three discrete phases. First, each aspiring presidential candidate will appear before blindfolded celebrities/judges/coaches to sing the song he believes best suits his unique candidacy. Should a judge take a fancy to one or more candidates, he will claim and mentor him or them in the skills needed to become a true celebrity and hence a great President. This will be done in preparation for the battle phases, each of which will involve the protegees of two coaches.

During the battle phase, candidates will appear dressed as they think appropriate.  Had the recent Republican debates been so conducted, Governor Romney might have worn soiled work clothing previously belonging to a sanitation engineer garbage collector, thereby avoiding any appearance that he could be a stuffy member of the idle rich class and therefore out of touch with the common people. Ron Paul might have worn the uniform of a British Major General and gesticulated with a ceremonial sword (or parasol) in time with the music to avoid any suggestion that he could be anti-nationalistic or have insufficient appreciation for the service of our men, women and others in uniform.

The contestants will sing a song chosen jointly by the two coaches, having nothing whatever to do with the costumes worn, or any substantive positions held, by any of the contestants. Performing together, each will sing the prescribed song in such words as he might chose to remember and in his own key. The purpose will be to determine which candidate(s) can best sing a song chosen by someone else in pleasing harmony with others. That is crucial in determining the candidate most likely to win a general election because everyone knows that the nation is best serviced served when members of opposing factions differ as little as possible and play well together.

The third phase, final “live rounds,” will feature winning “battle round” candidates. The third phase will be nationally televised and held before (mainly) live audiences selected by the judges from pools of volunteers. Once again, the candidates will select their own costumes, possibly those chosen for the previous phase. Their songs will be suggested by randomly selected audience members and chosen by majority vote of the judges.

The song chosen for a candidate will bear no discernible relationship to his costume (Little Bo Peep or Robin Hood, perhaps) or to any position he might (unwisely) hope to advance. A candidate trying to claim the pro-Hispanic mantle by wearing a sombrero might be told to sing I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

A pro-military candidate proudly wearing his cousin’s good conduct medal might be told to sing Peace in the Valley. The permutations are many and so are the possibilities for spontaneous and innovative choreography.

The live round phase will be the most enlightening aspect of the debates and will attract enormous audiences. Live rounds will continue weekly until only two candidates remain. The winner will then be determined by a national poll conducted by a reputable polling organization paid by the sponsoring television network(s) and such undisclosed voluntary contributions as the candidates may chose to make. The winner will then be acclaimed, unanimously, by the celebrities/judges/coaches as the Republican presidential nominee and the runner up will become the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Such debates will reveal little if anything about candidates’ positions on what are quaintly referred to as “the issues.” That is a feature, not a bug, because issues are distractions from candidates’ personal attributes. Involving such trivialities as the economy, foreign affairs, civil rights, religion, morality, immigration, national security and the like, they do not matter for three reasons.

First, a majority of voters neither know nor care about them.

Second, those who know don’t generally care because any ventilation of issues that might otherwise occur would have at most minimal relevance to what a candidate might do as the President.

Third, the very few who know and care should be able to satisfy their idle curiosities by reviewing printed campaign literature and other sources external to the debates, subject only to this caveat: voting on that basis is likely to lead to disappointment or worse.

Republican debates of this nature will prepare the surviving contestants Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees to compete against candidates of the opposing party or parties better than did the previous debates. It is to be hoped that, should there be pre-nomination debates by candidates of the Democrat or other parties, they will use the same format as the Republicans because while it’s “all just for show,” little else matters. All presidential and vice presidential candidates would then be equally well prepared to face their rivals.

National debates between or among all qualified candidates as outlined above would require only slight modification of the suggested format because there will be fewer candidates. The New Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidate Debates would then be of historically great assistance to all voters in deciding which candidates are best qualified.

Does the situation really call for this modest proposal? Probably not for rural areas, where reality is frequently present and understood. However, for major urban areas where most voters live but where reality is largely absent, the situation already seems to require heroic measures.


*Legal counsel insists on the following disclaimer:

“He” and other male words erroneously thought to suggest gender shall be construed as gender neutral and hence to refer without discrimination to males, females, transsexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals and all other segments of the population. No disparagement of anyone is intended, implied or to be assumed from the use of male words.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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