Yesterday, the Democrats debated in a different format than is usually used. Rather than all of them standing on a stage, they each took a turn and spoke individually with the panel (which included Melissa Ethridge) for about 15 minutes. This is certainly an interesting format, and I think that there are pluses and minuses to its use.
This format is a plus because the candidate must face the questioners alone, which eliminates grandstanding in front of the other candidates, because the other candidates aren't there. Thus, the candidate will sink or swim according to their own abilities, which can help a candidate bolster their campaign with a strong showing.
The minus is evident in this particular debate, which was sponsored by gay rights groups. It's not that gay rights groups were sponsoring it - it could have been any special interest group - but that ... well, look at the situation going on here. You're a Democrat running for office, and a group representing gay rights says that they would like you to debate in a new format. You know that the other candidates will have been asked, so it's not like you can refuse a request from one of your party's core constituency.
So there's the pressure to appear because you belong to the party that's inclined to support gay issues. But on top of that is this new format of each candidate appearing individually. What's wrong with it? Well, it's the fact that it's in front of a group of people that is very passionate about their cause. In other words, what else are you going to say in front of these people other than what that particular group wants to hear? They might as well have put the candidate in a dark room tied to a chair with a single light overhead and a gun pointed to his or her head, because that's the kind of pressure that this particular format puts on the candidate when it's done by a special interest group (again, this is regardless of the special interest group).
Of the eight Democratic candidates for president, six appeared. Again, gay rights groups are one of the core constituencies of the Democratic party, so unless a given Democratic candidate's campaign is pretty much a lost cause anyway, then the candidate can't really refuse when asked to appear. This whole set-up, then, is basically a grilling session that is rigged to intimidate a candidate into compliance. Either the candidates comply and say what they special interest group wants to hear, or they will say bad things about the candidate.
Under such duress, nothing that a candidate says can be reliable. "Do you support gay rights, Mr Obama?" "Do you support civil unions, Mrs. Clinton?" Are they supposed to say, "Hell no!"? Hell, no! If they did, then these gay rights groups will raise such a ruckus that they'll be run out of the party - and both the gay rights groups AND the candidates know this. Which is why the candidates' replies will be what these groups want to hear.
These same gay rights groups offered to do the same for the GOP candidates. Not surprisingly, they refused. And they would have been stupid to have accepted, because they would have been roasted alive by either the gay rights groups for saying the wrong things (which is going to occur). OR, in the scenario in which a GOP candidate appears AND says everything that they gay rights groups want to hear, then that same candidate will be roasted alive by party members. So basically, it's a no-win situation for any GOP member to accept such an invitation.
Now suppose the National Rifle Association held such a one-on-one debate, and Charlton Heston is the moderator. What GOP candidate could refuse such an invitation? In turn, what Democratic candidate could accept such an invitation? Thus, you can see that this format of one-on-one is a sham when sponsored by a special interest group.
The best way to do this format is by the same groups that normally hosts such debates. Then the candidate can answer a variety of questions, and the temptation to tailor their responses to their audience is lessened considerably. I think that at least one of the usual debates could prove VERY helpful if done in this format. So in summary, I say that the one-on-one format is a good idea, but hosted by a special interest group is a bad idea.
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3 months ago