- Posted October 22, 2012 by
Another way to fix the debates that will never happen
I recently read Dr. Zelinger’s essay “Do facts matter?” on CNN.com, and his message resonated with me. With the near instant access to information provided to us by the internet, fact-checking organizations should have become a game changer in our nation’s political discourse. The ability to check the veracity of a candidate’s statement with the ease of a Google search should have helped usher in an era of unprecedented honesty during elections. Instead, fact-checkers are largely ignored. Our society has resigned itself to the fact that our politicians will lie as it suits them, and that the organization tasked with exposing these lies, the media, will serve its own agenda rather than that of the people.
With that problem in mind, I present to you, the Internet, my Great Idea To Fix the Debates That Will Never, Ever Happen:
Make each debate a two-night event.
The first night would proceed as debates have in the past. Candidates would stand in front of podiums or sit on stools as they say whatever they want to convince the people they are the country’s best option. Lies would be told, truths would be stretched, and accusations would be made. The candidates would force smiles and shake hands, the lights would go down, and both parties would try to spin the debate into a win for their side.
The second night, however, would be radically different. The candidates would once again stand in front of their podiums/sit on their stools and face the crowd. However, instead of asking questions on policy, the moderator would lead a recap of the previous night. Working from the results formulated by an independent fact-checking organization agreed upon by both parties, the moderator would present the candidates with their inaccuracies from the previous night, with replays of their remarks and citations made available to prevent any ambiguity. Candidates would then have a short amount of time to explain exactly what they meant by their statement and why they said it in such a manner. The moderator would alternate between candidates until there were no more inaccuracies to revisit.
If the campaigns ever allowed this to occur, it could force an unprecedented level of honesty in politics. The candidates would of course have their answers prepared. When faced with cold, hard facts, rationalizations and denials would abound. But how many times could someone, even a staunch supporter of a particular candidate, hear, “I misspoke” or, “That is not how those facts were presented to me” before serious doubt about the candidate’s ability to lead the country arose? If they misspoke, how could someone so unable to convey their point hope to lead the country? If the facts weren’t presented to them properly, how, with the hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions available to them, were they not able to surround themselves with competent people to present them with accurate findings? When faced with the choice of admitting to either gross incompetence or dishonesty, it wouldn’t be long before candidates began choosing their words more carefully.
In a country where the pundits drown out reasonable debate, and each other, with cries of “He lied!”, all it might take is the simple, powerful statement, “I lied,” to change everything.
As stated previously, this idea will never come to pass. No campaign will ever agree to submit to the truth, even if it forced the other side to do the same. It’s too easy to sway voters with grandiose promises and dire threats, too hard to get them to listen to informed, reasoned decisions. However, leading our country should be about doing what’s right rather than what’s easy, and we should expect nothing less from those who would lead us.