The Commission on Presidential Debates, about as arcane a group as one might imagine, is going back to the drawing board to add “additional structure” to the debate format “to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.” Yeah, sure. As if lack of “structure” was the problem.
The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was a painful, disgusting, cringe-worthy debacle which made me embarrassed to be an American.
There was structure, a set of rules agreed upon by the two candidates. Basically, there were to be alternating two minute responses to questions from the moderator. During each candidate’s two minutes, the other would remain silent. But right from the beginning it was clear that Trump had no intention of abiding by those rules. Trump spent the full 90 minutes aggressively interrupting Biden, making mean-spirited personal attacks, taunting the former Vice President, trying to provoke. From my standpoint, it was a transparent and cruel attempt to cause Biden, who has struggled his whole life to overcome a stutter, to break by interrupting his speech.
Yes, Biden occasionally responded in kind. But for most of the 90 minutes Biden exhibited the Patience of Job. And a few of Biden’s retorts were memorable. “Shut up man” was my favorite. At one point Biden simply asked the audience, “Do you have any idea what this clown is doing?”
CNN’s Jake Tapper called it “A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” Tapper does have a way with words.
The moderator, Fox’s Chris Wallace, asked afterwards if Trump had derailed the debate replied, “Well, he certainly didn’t help.”
Which brings us back to the question of the hour. What can the Commission do to restore order? About the only structural change I can see them making is to give the moderator control of each candidate’s microphone. When your two minutes is up, your microphone is turned off. And while one candidate is talking, the other’s microphone is silent. While Biden is naturally soft-spoken, Trump has a big mouth and is known to shout and scream in rage. I think the microphone trick will be of marginal value at best.
Other Ideas – The Hook
I have some other ideas. On some of the amateur hour programs, which originated in the days of vaudeville, and more famously in the cartoons, there was the hook. You bring out the hook, and yank the offending performer right off the stage.
Other Ideas – The Gong
On a more modern incarnation of the amateur hour, television’s, “The Gong Show,” the judges had a large gong they could ring when they had enough of a performer. One solid and loud ring and you were done for the night.
Other Ideas – The Cone of Silence
And then there is my personal favorite. If the debaters get too loud, just drop the Cone of Silence on them. This little gadget from the TV show “Get Smart” was supposed to allow Agent Maxwell Smart and The Chief to talk confidentially without anyone overhearing them. The conceit was that once the device was lowered from the ceiling, they couldn’t hear each other!
We could just give up on the debates.