Newt Gingrich has floated a challenge  to all presidential candidates regarding next year's debates between the eventual nominees...and it's fair to say it's a far cry from what we've grown used to in the decades since the dawn of television.
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. ...
Wow. I don't think half of the candidates currently running for president are capable of filling 90 uninterupted minutes with meaningful conversation. Not to mention be willing to take that kind of "risk". And I think that's part of the point he's trying to make here. That too many candidates see it as a "risk" to engage in real, unscripted conversation.
Now, with some candidates, I suppose that's true..insofar as they're really just not capable of it...or lack the intelligence. But in that case, they shouldn't be running in the first place. Gingrich goes on to compare our current situation with the past.
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. ...
I guess that's the kind of confidence you have when you really believe in yourself and your ideas. One thing you can say about Newt, he's always been a believer in his ideas, and good at presenting them. And he's always felt that the GOP does better when we confidently tell the American people what we believe and run on those ideas. He concludes:
Let the candidates pick the topics. Let the answers be as long as they need to be. Let the conversation be open-ended.
Each debate would focus on one topic confronting the republic -- such as the threat presented by radical Islam or the challenge of securing our borders -- on which the American people expect their next leader to have solutions. Instead of debating Swift Boat veterans and National Guard papers, we would have a genuinely patriotic discussion about the future of our country.
To get the ball rolling, I propose the first and only ground rule: "Perfect reciprocity, and no more."
Well, at a minimum, it would certainly be more entertaining than what we've become used to, if not actually better for the country.