Saturday, November 05, 2011

Will Cain-Gingrich debates remind us of Lincoln-Douglas?

Political debates have steadily devolved over the decades from critical discussions of important issues into soundbite showcases, where candidates struggle to belt out pithy one-liners in hopes they'll make it onto the evening news. This frustrates candidates - who feel their nuanced positions are reduced to slogans - and it frustrates voters - who feel like they're not voting for a candidate, but for a bumper sticker. So, it is exciting to see two of the major Republican candidates experimenting with a different style. Calling back to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates which solidified Abraham Lincoln as the leader of the anti-slavery movement in the Republican party.

The long-form format of the Cain-Gingrich debate will consist of only three or four basic questions, a moderator who will try to stay out of the picture and a great deal of crossdiscussion.

The debate will focus on federal entitlement spending — on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Gingrich will be specifically required to defend his criticism — later retracted — of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reduce a $14 trillion deficit.

Cain will be required to explain the intricacies of his “9-9-9” plan — a measure that includes a 9 percent corporate tax rate, a 9 percent personal income tax rate and a 9 percent national sales tax.
Will this work? Will it cause the fortunes of these two men to rise or fall? I have no idea. In modern America, we sometimes expect our candidates to be shrink-wrapped perfection. But it is a bold and interesting experiment, and if it can raise the tone and incrase the depth of the current cycle, I am all for it.

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