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Newt Has A Great Idea
Of course, it's probably a little ways off, but I expect him to run. And here he is, in the LA Times, suggesting a way to get past all the talking points:

A challenge arrived at the office of every presidential candidate about two weeks ago. It was a letter, signed by journalist Marvin Kalb and me, challenging each one, Republican and Democrat, to sign on for "Nine Nineties in Nine." That is, if nominated, they would pledge to take part in nine 90-minute debates in the nine weeks leading up to election day.

How is this different? We are asking the candidates to throw out the rule book that has stifled political debate. Each party's nominee would be expected to present and defend solutions in a one-on-one dialogue with his or her opponent. The moderator would only keep time and introduce topics.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has informally agreed to "Nine Nineties in Nine," but so far, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is the only candidate to officially accept the challenge.

Our system to elect a president is not working for the American people. The big-city-machine bosses of the past have been replaced by professional political consultant bosses. Sadly, the role of the candidate -- the man or woman who would lead the most powerful nation on Earth -- largely has been reduced to raising the money to hire consultants and then reading what the consultants scrawl on 3-by-5 cards. It's a stunningly dangerous development for a democracy.

We don't really have presidential debates today; we have a kind of meaningless political performance art: a recitation of talking points choreographed to avoid any risk.

In the 2004 election, the Bush-Kerry debate rules ran a full 32 pages of do's and don'ts, including one rule that ordered the moderator to stop any candidate who dared to depart from the script to reference someone in the audience.

The candidates also were ordered to turn over for inspection "all such paper and any pens or pencils with which a candidate may wish to take notes during the debate." Pen and pencils. Talk about the vital stuff of democracy!

In telling contrast, the ground rules for the most famous debates in U.S. history were outlined in a two-sentence letter from Abraham Lincoln to Stephen Douglas, his opponent in the 1858 race for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. After a prompt exchange of letters, they settled on the terms for seven debates. Lincoln insisted only that "I wish perfect reciprocity, and no more." There was no talk of pens and pencils.

Newt's absolutely right: If you want to find out what candidates think, you have to let them talk -- no, actually, make them talk -- and for far longer than they can remember the points that have been thought out for them by their groomers. Only through that will you get moments like this one -- where Bill Richardson showed himself to be, well, kind of a moron.

Posted by aalkon at August 27, 2007 10:36 AM

Comments

Posted by: Crid at August 27, 2007 2:17 AM

where Bill Richardson showed himself to be, well, kind of a moron.

Aww, come on now...he's just trying to steal Mitt's thunder:

What books did Romney claim as his favorites? The Bible is his favorite book. His favorite novel is Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer and Scientology founder. The first we would have expected, but the second is so wacky, it breathes new life into the tired old reporter's trope: There must be something we can learn about Romney by examining this answer.

Link: http://www.slate.com/id/2165373/

Posted by: Doobie at August 27, 2007 3:31 AM

Won't work, of course. We haven't had a political candidate with the depth or intellect of either Douglas or Lincoln in the past 50 years.

Television changed everything. It ruined government. Style now trumps substance. And I see no hope of that ever changing.

Posted by: brian at August 27, 2007 4:58 AM

We haven't had a political candidate with the depth or intellect of either Douglas or Lincoln in the past 50 years.

We might if we don't keep demanding so little of them. We, and the system, are what makes it possible for people of so little substance to run our country.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 27, 2007 6:28 AM

Amy - the founder's intent was for the government to have very little power for the specific reason that only scoundrels and idiots would ultimately be attracted to office. The founders had as little faith in human nature as I do. Actually, I have a bit less - I would have put term limits in the Constitution.

What we demand of our politicians now is good hair, a pretty face, and the ability to give good sound bite. Whether there's a thought in the head or not is largely irrelevant. The smart people are off running companies and making the economy do its thing.

Posted by: brian at August 27, 2007 6:36 AM

Crid, I liked the part "lying or providing misleading answers to Parliament is not permitted." Wouldn't it be nice (sounds like a song to me).

Posted by: Dave at August 27, 2007 7:53 AM

"The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre--the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." -- H.L. Mencken

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at August 27, 2007 8:55 AM

Ms. Gandhi included this snippet:

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." -- H.L. Mencken

I'd say we've already reached that day.

Posted by: William at August 27, 2007 9:59 AM

Reminds me of a political cartoon I saw years ago which showed a tall, skinny caricature of Uncle Sam standing next to a complicated machine with gears and belts and pulleys and smokestacks sticking out all over. Across the front of the machine was a banner which read, "American Presidential Primary Process". Uncle Sam has just moved a lever on the side of the machine to "On", and coming down a chute in the front of the machine are -- you guessed it -- two yo-yo's.

Posted by: Kirk Strong at August 27, 2007 11:51 AM

Listen, the only thing more mockable than the public servants we actually have are the public servants that people will say they want... When you can muster the energy required to get them to say what they want, which is difficult. It's always easier just to sit in the back of the room and throw spitballs.

When not pestering Amy and her readers, I go to Reddit and Digg and Mefi. These sites are populated by young, technical, presumably liberal people with undergraduate degrees. They're obsessed with Bush & Rove, and every third posting describes the imminent End of Freedom As We Know It. And of course, they're enchanted with John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

But these men are clowns. If you poured enough beer into Stewart in the privacy of a booth at a pizza parlor, he might admit it. He'd never do so in public.... Why should he? If his viewers feel an extra twinge of loyalty to his comedy because Goddamit, he's telling it like it is!, then why would Stewart want to interrupt the fantasy? He's got a business to run. Baby needs a new pair of shoes.

But these guys are just as insular as Limbaugh or Fox. They filter their signal with ferocious precision. No guest can offer a competing idea without a studio full of warmed-up fratboys squealing like pigs. Stewart will never appear on a studio interview show with three other commentators and no studio audience. He'd get his balls cut off, and he knows it. The one time he actually did step into such an arena on CNN, he warbled something about “the corporations,” and then it was over.

So he sits back and makes fun of the news of the preceding day. He can't afford to tell you what ought to happen in the day ahead, and he'll certainly never speculate more than a week into the future. He's got to be in position to say “We're just tryin' to doing a show here, folks.”

Similarly, people here grumble about style versus substance and yo-yos and Mencken's morons, as if something obvious had gone wrong, and anyone with a lick of horse sense would be able to see what it is.

I don't think so. All those politicians you loathe are doing something for someone who cares about it enough to vote for them; or, like Bush, they seem less likely to damage the future than do their competitors for the office.

And so let's have some fun: Who are the politicians who aren't yo-yos? Go ahead, name names.

It's not that I'm sharpening the blade for tonight's knife fight, but it would be good to have everybody on record. Just a few short weeks ago, everyone thought Bill Richardson was the cat's pajamas.

Posted by: Crid at August 27, 2007 12:54 PM

Be patient.... I'm thinking.... let's see ..... isn't a yo-yo.... I'll get back to you when someone comes up.

Posted by: Dave at August 27, 2007 1:47 PM

At the moment, I can't come up with any true non-yo-yo's in the political ranks. Then again, I am up to my armpits with the junior yo-yo's who are appointed to government jobs by those same politicians. What's more, my infamous boss man just resigned this morning (it's finally bedtime for Gonzo), so I've been exceedingly diverted all day. And damn it all to hell, I didn't even win the office pool!

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at August 27, 2007 2:27 PM

You just inadvertently endorsed another actor for President.

Relax - some of them aren't "yo-yo's".

I nominate Tom Hanks. There will be no need to vote!

Posted by: Radwaste at August 27, 2007 2:35 PM

> I didn't even win the
> office pool!

Where was the money? November? Spring?

Posted by: Crid at August 27, 2007 2:41 PM

Hey y'all -- the cartoon about yo-yo's was supposed to be funny!

We all know that in reality the candidates are all sincere, dedicated, intelligent and hard-working public servants -- even if it is fun to watch them going up and down on the end of a string.

Posted by: Kirk Strong at August 27, 2007 5:31 PM

See what I mean?

Everyone's a comedian....

Posted by: Crid at August 27, 2007 5:45 PM

And so let's have some fun: Who are the politicians who aren't yo-yos?

Crid, you ask the funnest questions.

I think the Governator has done a pretty decent job managing a very unruly state. Not a Yo-Yo in my book.

I disagree with him on almost everything, but I'm impressed with Mike Huckabee. He's an excellent spokesman for the social conservative view.

Oh, and this one's going to rankle a few folks - but of all of the Democratic candidates right now, Hillary Clinton seems to have really done her homework and thought through how she would lead. I'm nearly convinced she wouldn't screw things up too badly, which is basically all I think we can hope for from the politicians.

I kinda find Ron Paul's views appealing, but he's definitely a Yo-Yo.

Posted by: justin case at August 27, 2007 7:34 PM

> I didn't even win the
> office pool!

Where was the money? November? Spring?

I actually had given up on Gonzales going anywhere. His recent testimony in the senate was absolutely masterful (I'm not being sarcastic here - I'm simply assuming that his mission when testifying was to provide no useful information at all), and he clearly had demonstrated he was willing to fall on his sword for Bush.

What I wonder is whether Bush will try to get someone confirmed or go for the no-risk recess appointment. Certainly the judiciary committee will go for the throat if Bush doesn't give them an appointee they can stomach. I heard Sessions speaking today, and his was the weakest defense of Bush I've ever heard him give - usually he's pretty stalwart. This will be good political theater. My guess is that Bush goes for the recess appointment, just because I can't imagine him being willing to appoint someone that Leahy won't hate. Given the option between working with the Democrats and sticking it to them, Bush almost never chooses the former. And imagine the howls from the left, with the AG being a recess appointment. This will be good!

Posted by: justin case at August 27, 2007 7:49 PM

> This will be good
> political theater.

Not for the rest of us, only for the lawyers. After the Zoe Baird/Kimba Wood fiasco, as Reno had been given the office, I read a piece in some liberal outlet about how a lot of Baby Boom lawyers suddenly realized that an important component of The Fantasy had passed them by: Even after the first Rock 'n Roll President had gone to the trough for a third time, they were never going to be AG.

I tried to sympathize. And failed. Not just as a feminist who knew the stink of a quota when it wafted along, but as a less-aggressive, less-quibbling human being who'd come to realize that the LSAT champions weren't necessarily the most fit personalities in a generation.

Bush, bless his pointed little head, did not infer in Monday's press conference that Gonzales had been the victim of racist targeting. Can you imagine a Democrat passing up that opportunity?

> seems to have really
> done her homework

Hillary! Eccch! Ptoooie! Hillary! Uhhllllllg.

I hate Hillary. More than anything I hate her for an editorial she wrote in the NYT circa 1994. I oughta go back and find it I hate it so much. Anyway, she's the Antichrist, she's married to That Man (who I voted for! [Once!]), and I hate her very, very much.

Your mileage may vary, but you have to admit that my opinion is only mildly extreme considering how many people dislike her and how deeply they do. And yours is well within normal bounds too. And we could duke it out until there was nothing but bloody pulp on the floor for Amy to mop up on Friday, but it wouldn't do much good. We each know what we're talking about.

So what I'm saying is, you and I could, with a few meetings and a little goodwill, maybe sketch out a plan for how the future oughta work. Say, until September of 2008, when Radwaste and his infamous Committee of Seven take over to get us through the decade.

But to do so we'd have to stop snarking about events on the front pages, and talk about the future. Most people don't want to do that.

(If you really want to try this, I'm game, but can we wait until the Craig thing blows over? Tuesday's morning headlines are going to be sweeter than Christmas.)

People use politics as an opportunity to complain about their achin' dogs, ie, the irritations of the moment. John Stewart is rich and famous because of that.

Posted by: Crid at August 28, 2007 12:51 AM

Crid, I had my money on the Friday before Memorial Day, which is one of the most popular days for politicos to take their leave. Should have stuck with sometime in August, when DC is hot, muggy, and virtually devoid of political types (and, hence, the press). About the only things that get a lot of airplay around here this time of year are the weather and the ongoing crisis of the DC public school system.

Word around the Justice League is that Gonzo finally decided to jump ship when he heard the preliminary findings of the DOJ Inspector General's own wide-ranging internal investigations into hiring/firing practices and the wiretapping issue. Although the IG is weeks/months away from completing its work, what it has found so far is, apparently, not very flattering for Gonzales & Co. If that is the case, it would make sense for him to get out now, before the reports are finalized and Congress starts gnawing and droooling on them.

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at August 28, 2007 7:10 AM

Although I didn't intend the extra "o" in drooling, I kind of like it. Makes it seem more, I don't know, salivary.

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at August 28, 2007 7:17 AM

Yeah. The extra o gives more time for spittle to fall.

I maintain that

[A] there's no meat on these bones, that the Dubya Administration's handling of it was only clumsy and in no other way atypical or less savory than when these people were handled by, say, Clinton.

and

[B] Dems can't make hay about it without constraining their own options when they're in the big chair, either by any new regulation or by the bitter memories of Republicans who will remember this dustup. Elephants have memories.

Posted by: Crid at August 28, 2007 7:29 AM

Crid, as far as the U.S. Attorney firings go, I'd have to agree with you. The issue was really administrative and PR hamhandedness. And the "revelation" that Gonzales is either very divorced from operations in his own Department, or he is experiencing chronic blackouts which hinder his memory during business hours.

The IG's investigations, however, include allegations of more widespread internal improprieties within DOJ. From political and/or religious criteria being applied to hiring decisions at all levels (even to the low-paid, temporary summer interns), to numerous allegations of legal and administrative irregularities in the Civil Rights Division. And the IG's office is just getting warmed up on the separate investigation into the wiretapping.

Gonzales could have (and probably would have) survived the U.S. Attorneys kerfluffle. But if the IG's investigations are not going well, as is rumored, it likely would have moved the situation beyond a mere hay-making opportunity for Dems. Gonzales would have become the featured course at a bi-partisan shark banquet.

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at August 28, 2007 10:43 AM

This would be a perfect forum for these canidates ooh are so coached for the 15 second sound bite.Let them expand on their agendas. Let them explain what they mean by collectivism,why nobody wants tax cuts.Debates should be real debates. No pre-selected questions asked by talking heads. Let the canidates set the tone and subject of the debate and have the moderator make sure no one gets boxed out.

Posted by: John at August 28, 2007 4:37 PM

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