Last night I watched a debate between candidates for Massachusetts governor from historic Faneuil Hall, called the “Cradle of Liberty” by Bostonians.

According to the National Park Service web site,

Town meetings, held here between 1764 and 1774, heard Samuel Adams and others lead cries of protest against the imposition of taxes on the colonies.

I could not help but think back to those days when watching the debate, if you can call it that, last evening. Moderated by the polymorphous political pundit David Gergen,
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

One of the things about politics that is most disturbing is that so few pay attention. And those that do understand that we are in a soundbite culture. Could that be the reason so few pay attention? Could be. The debate last evening was a joke, on the citizens of Massachusetts.

Gergen: Candidate A, give me your top three priotities as governor, you have sixty seconds.

Gergen: Candidate B, you have twenty seconds to respond.

Content no longer matters. Ideas don’t matter. Pithy matters.

This is not Gergen’s fault, it seems to be how all debates are structured these days. As a voter looking for insight and informatrion on candidates, this is no way to find it. As a political junkie, I know the candidates, I have been reading the blogs, watching the campaign for months now. But most people just start to pay attention a month before the election, and a forum like last night does a disservice to them, and all citizens of the state, if this is how we are delivering information to the masses about who should run the state and why.

I propose a new debate format. One that would expose the candidates, illuminate their abilities and ideas. It would go something like this,

Moderator: Candidate A, you say you have a specific plan to deal with property taxes, you have ten minutes to explain that plan, how you would work with the legislature and what you expect the outcome to be.

Moderator: Candidate B, you have five minutes to respond.

These candidates would be exposed. They would look like deer caught in the headlights. They would be on stage, alone, forced to deliver detailed information to the voters. We would learn more about their plans and proposals, and more importantly, more about them personally. Have a series of debates, as we do now, but cover a few specific topics, in detail.

I don’t think forums that reward the candidate who does the best imitation of the fast talking Fed Ex spokesperson from the classic 1980’s TV commercials is anyway to decide who runs a state, let alone a high school senior class.