I suspect, based upon no evidence beyond my own experience, that many weblog posts are conceived and gestate of an early morning while their author struggles to consciousness under the soothing blast of a showerhead. On this particular morning, my thoughts turned to presidential politics and to the eventual, inevitable presidential debates between Messrs. Bush and Kerry.
I have already made one helpful suggestion in the interest of streamlining the next seven interminable months until Election Day. No one took me up on that one, but as the poet says "they all laughed at Edison and also at Einstein," so I am prepared to try, try again.
Two premises to begin:
1. A debate between candidates should assist in the voter's search for truth, and it is well settled that a search for truth is best accomplished through the participation of attorneys and the application of the rules of evidence.
2. Requiring the candidates to handle their debate performances as solo artists renders the debate an incomplete simulation of the conditions under which the prevailing party will be called on to serve the citizenry. In reality, once a candidate is victorious and has actually to do the job of the President, he will not be called on to do so alone. He will, like many another successful executive, have a vast support staff ready at his command. Even Donald Trump consults with his advisors before firing each week's hapless Apprentice.
From these premises, I derive a modest variant on the traditional debate format. In addition to the candidates themselves and the panel of distinguished journalists who will question them, two additional participants will be allowed per side:
1. The role of the Candidate Advocate, one for each side, will be to raise appropriate objections to the opposing candidate's response to questions. Objections based on ideology will not be allowed; the only permissible objections will be those that could be raised under the rules of evidence. If a timely objection is made, the responding candidate would not be permitted to make statements of fact of which he has no personal knowledge, nor to rely on hearsay -- subject, of course, to the admissibility of admissions or prior inconsistent statements by the opposing candidate. Most usefully, the Advocate would be permitted to move to strike non-responsive "answers" to the journalists' questions, with the voters being instructed to disregard those statements that do not directly address the question that was actually posed.
All objections are presumed to be well taken, and the candidate against whom the objection is raised must stop the offending response immediately and either provide an admissible answer or hold his peace. No appeal will be permitted during the debate, but the candidates' spokespersons will be permitted to critique the opposing side's objections following the debate's conclusion, with no time limit.
2. Just as an attorney needs an assistant in a major trial, each candidate would be permitted one staffer of his choice to serve as his "Bag Carrier." The Carrier would be permitted to bring to the debate any documents -- hard copies only, no computers permitted -- to which the candidate may wish to refer, limited to what fits into a single briefcase. Prior to answering any question, the candidate would be permitted to consult -- on camera but without sound -- with his Bag Carrier to obtain necessary advice or information, such consultations to be limited to 45 seconds. A running tally will be kept of the number of times each candidate exercises the right of consultation, perhaps to be cross-referenced to each candidate's blink rate.
An additional suggestion: Let's designate one debate to be devoted to "Positive Statements Only." All questions would be couched in terms such that the responding candidate would be required to Say Something Nice or Nothing At All about his opponent in response.
Examples: "Mr. President, please tell us at least three occasions on which Senator Kerry has displayed exemplary patriotism." "Senator Kerry, what are the three or more actions taken by the President following the September 11 attacks that you could not possibly improve upon?" "Sir, how will our country be improved by your opponent's election?" "Which of your opponent's accomplishments do you most hope voters won't notice?"The responses to questions like these might be refreshing, or the awkward silences might be deafening. Or both sides might just spontaneously combust. Riveting television, any way you slice it.