September 23, 2004

This Ain't Mayberry

The Bush and Kerry campaigns this week agreed on the rules of engagement for three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate planned before the November election. In the negotiated memorandum of understanding,[7.2 MB PDF download] the candidates agree to fork over their notepaper for inspection before each debate to make sure nobody’s bringing cheat sheets.

They’re not allowed to bring props, either. This hopefully includes wetsuits and flight suits as well as charts and diagrams.

The agreement also designates that the Oct. 8 presidential debate in St. Louis will be done “town hall” style.

“Town hall” evokes an idyllic democratic process, where engaged citizens pack into the biggest room in town to ask the questions they need answered before they choose which candidate gets their votes. If rustic television’s Andy Griffith ever needed to run for reelection as sheriff of Mayberry, this is where he’d give frank answers to tough questions.

But the rules governing the St. Louis debate add layers between candidates and the participating audience. Questioners must submit their written questions to the moderator, recite them as written and then just listen without asking any follow up questions.

It would be nice to hear a little back and forth. It’s unlikely any question will be wholly unanticipated, but a discussion with an informed voter could take the debate in unpredictable directions.

But both candidates have been increasingly wary of risking the unexpected of late.

Much has been written about the vetted crowds at the “Ask President Bush” events, and Kerry chose an invitation-only audience of NYU students as the venue to deliver a scathing attack on Bush’s Iraq policy on Monday.

And both candidates have become even more reluctant to submit themselves to questioning from the press.

Posted by Zack Johnson at September 23, 2004 01:50 PM

What's wrong with this picture? When are our potential "leaders" (and I do use the term with great trepidation) going to participate in a real debate of the issues? All I'm asking is that my president stand before the people of this country, prior to being elected, and debate the issues that concern the citizens of this country. I don't want the candidates hiding behind some prepackaged debate with campaign soundbites as answers. I understand why President Bush is concerned (I've watched his press conferences). Is John Kerry willing to stand up to a true debate? Why aren't we, the citizens of this country, demanding that the candidates participate in a true debate? DEMANDING!!!!!

Posted by: Fed Up at September 24, 2004 10:41 PM