As we sit in front of our televisions or laptops and watch primary debates, we are literally outsiders looking in. We are as far removed from our democracy as we could be. There is something symbolic about sitting in a chair, looking at a screen that contains images of a room somewhere else, in which people who want to be awarded the power to govern us dictate the terms of the very process by which the selection is made. This is not the essence of a participatory, or even representative, democracy.
What we are witnessing right now, in the context of the debate about debates, is a power struggle between the candidates and the networks. (It may also include the Republican National Committee, but at this point that’s not clear.) What is amazing about this confrontation is that both combatants have utterly failed to meet even the lowest standards that we, as an electorate, are currently willing to tolerate. The candidates, each with their own agendas and strategies, judge their own success by their ability to say something memorable rather than something important. Senator Ted Cruz has made gains in his quest to be elected President of the United States of America by…. critiquing the media. There is not a single candidate in either party who has told us what he or she would actually do as President to any degree that would qualify that person for the job.
For their part, the networks’ handling of these debates has been an ongoing disgrace. From FOX News asking the candidates if they have actually heard from God, to CNBC’s creatively childish interrogatories, the networks have failed their basic obligation to get information to the public. It’s that simple.
We do not know who will prevail in the fight between the candidates and the networks for control of the debate rules, but we do know who will come in third. Under circumstances where fifteen candidates, and a handful of networks, battle to establish the debate format that ultimately deprives 360 million people of substantive information they need in order to make a reasoned decision, the public takes home the bronze.
Unless and until the overwhelming majority of Americans who do not watch these fiascos are offered an alternative format, our representative form of government will continue on its steady decline, electing people whose successful campaign strategy is to scare, enrage – but not inform. Caucuses and primaries will come and go, as will Election Day in November, 2016, and a president will be chosen.
Candidates and networks march forward, comfortable in the belief that Americans should be treated like children and that by dividing us, terrifying us, and provoking us, they can successfully avoid disclosing the changes in our day-to-day lives that will ensue upon election of a new President.
Time and time again, we find ourselves surprised by what the candidates actually do when they are elected. There is a remedy for that: Demand debates that showcase defensible solutions, and do so to the exclusion of all else. Demand debates that give the public fair warning of what the candidates intend to do. We have to be willing, as a country, to require disclosure prior to the election, and to reasonably evaluate it.
Rob Kilmer, the President of You Defend It, Inc. is a lawyer with a litigation practice in upstate New York. He hosted the “You Defend It with Rob Kilmer” radio show until 2009 and since then has produced You Defend It debates.. He worked as a guest commentator for CBS4 in Miami during the 2012 Presidential debates, and Pulitzer Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a piece on him called: “A Solution for Loud, Empty Talk”.
Mr. Kilmer’s initiative focuses on current, divisive issues, and provides members of the public with an opportunity to witness a dignified debate, the purpose of which is to identify how people’s lives will actually be affected by the outcome of the issue being debate. Towards that end, You Defend It debates are governed by two, simple rules: 1) each debater must directly answer the question asked; and 2) each must do so without a single reference to his or her opponent’s argument, party or (presumed) political philosophy. In other words, each debater is expected to show up at the debate with his or her own solution – and defend it.
You Defend It
“If you say it, prove it – because we live with the consequences.”