Changing the debate

By Andrew Kutzer

The commission on presidential debates should adopt a classic debate style, which is a style used in academic debates such as Frederic-Douglass or an Oxford debate style that has been suggested by Intelligence Squared and their moderator, John Donvan.

On Tuesday, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took questions. The questions jumped from issue to issue and were framed in a way that allows candidates to pivot away from addressing the question.

A more appropriate debate style wouldn’t involve reporters. The debate would start with a general issue on the campaign trail turned into an argument with two sides.

On a debate team, they call it a resolution. For example, a debate on foreign policy would be framed, “America is better when it closes itself off from foreign affairs.” The candidates would take sides and argue about personal principles and their parties’ views.

It would be clear which candidate would argue either stance. Supporting the motion, Donald Trump would take an affirmative stance on the resolution. Against the motion, arguing a more internationalist approach, Hillary Clinton would argue the negative stance on the issue.

Moderators in the debate would not ask questions, but instead, ensure that candidates responded directly to the arguments posed by each side. The candidates would directly address each other with opening arguments defending their side and present counters to their opponents.

The opportunity for moderators to turn to repeated tag lines or stump speech would be limited. The presidential candidates would have to respond to the arguments as they came up and counters, presented by the opposing side, not a question to reinforce the resume credentials.

In the election of 1960, the first televised debates started in this way. Senator Kennedy and Vice President Nixon presented an opening argument and addressed arguments against one another, offering counterpoints. It was a cordial event and the candidates never openly insulted or belittled each other. They commended each other on their dedication to public service, but made sure to voice their disagreement.

The only debate that has come close to the Kennedy-Nixon debate was the final debate of 2008 between President Obama and Governor Romney. The two sat at the same table, presented their arguments on foreign policy issues and directly responded to each other’s statements.

The remaining presidential debates will be held on Oct. 9 and Oct. 19. The only vice presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 4.

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