Who Should Debate?

Fox News might have gotten their revenge on John Edwards and Hillary Clinton for not wanting to debate on their network as their microphones picked up Edwards and Clinton speaking of limiting those allowed to participate in future debates. While there is no doubt that the current debate format is horrible, limiting the candidates which can particpate is not the solution.

The problem comes down to where one draws the line. If we limit the debates to the front runners months ahead of the primaries we are creating a self-fulfilling prediction. The front runners may remain front runners because other candidates don’t get a chance to be heard. Not only would they be denied coverage at the debates, but I bet that the media would use this as reason to reduce coverage even further of the other candidates.

Sure, there are candidates who have no chance. If Al Sharpton had been excluded from the debates in 2003 it wouldn’t have affected the outcome of the race, but the debates would have been a lot less fun. If we excluded Al Sharpton, should John Kerry have also been excluded in the fall of 2003 when he trailed Sharpton in the polls?

Looking at this year’s race, there is strong reason to argue that only Clinton and Obama have a real shot, so perhaps even Edwards should be excluded. Some might even argue that Clinton has already clinched it, and we should just have Hillary talking to herself for ninety minutes. I’m certain she could handle arguing both sides of the Iraq war.

I imagine Edwards and Clinton were envisioning a debate between themselves along with Barack Obama, but why draw the line there? Edwards had a pretty unimpressive second quarter. Bill Richardson, who has far more experience than any of them, almost caught Edwards in second quarter fund raising, and is improving in the polls. Of course some might argue that Richardson’s chances would be better if he was left out of the debates after his appearances so far.

If we stretch the debates to include Richardson, then what of Biden and Dodd. Both are more experienced than many others in the race. If Richardson could show signs of improvement in the second quarter, whose to say that Biden or Dodd might not catch on later in the year.

Realistically we could leave out Kucinich and Gravel, but if we’ve already allowed all the others in, having two more won’t really matter. While Kucinich’s protest does contain some hyperbole, I’m still inclined to let these two speak.

There has to be better ways to handle the debates, but a lesser number of candidates does not guarantee great debates. There have been plenty of two candidate debates in the general election campaign which weren’t all that impressive either. I’d prefer to see fewere (and better) questions where candidates are provided more time to respond to both the question and each other.

Update: Ultimately the field will be reduced without having to exclude candidates as the weaker candidates are forced to drop out. A day after posting this, The Politico reports that James Gilmore is dropping out. The Democrats have also had one candidate drop out–Tom Vilsack.

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  1. 1
    vwcat says:

    I have not gotten into this issue. I saw the forum yesterday on the webcast. As much as I really really dislike Clinton, I just got sick of it being talked to death on the blogs everywhere.
    Your well thought out and written and thought provoking ‘OpEd”, really spoke to me.
    I wish everyone arguing over this subject on the net could read this.
    You have very eloquently put down what we should all think about and ponder.
    thank you.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Thanks for the comments on this.

  3. 3
    battlebob says:

    Until we have some primaries, all the ones running should be included. The problem is the press formats do not allow for anything except sound-byte responses.
    Iowa, New Hampshire and a few others will cull the herd.
    A few may be dropping out soon because of money problems because Hillary and Obama are sucking the money ponds dry.

    We should let nature take its course and not be too fast about eliminating possibilities.

    All candidates add texture and context. Let’s hear them now as most will be gone soon anyway.

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