The interlocutors are increasingly just a distraction for partisans, and there's no need for anyone to ask questions anyway. Here's how to run a better debate.
Presidential debates have gained some new respect in this election, thanks to a marked swing in the polls following President Obama's lackluster performance in the first encounter. Mitt Romney's surge showed that, this year at least, the debates have had a real impact on how voters perceive the candidates.
But because of their format, the debates leave a lot to be desired. The biggest problem is they give both sides an easy excuse for a bumbling or poor result -- it's the ref's fault! In all three debates so far, the moderator has been immediately blamed for being either incompetent or biased. For future years, there is an easy solution to this problem: Get rid of the moderator. What purpose does a human questioner serve except as a lightning rod for? Eliminating the job would remove the easy scapegoat. Moreover, it just might make the debates more lively, more unscripted, more hard-hitting -- and more useful.
The format we need is one that harks back to the famed 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. Let the two candidates get on stage alone and duke it out. The original debates between the men, who were fighting for a Senate seat in Illinois, involved one candidate speaking for an hour, his opponent speaking for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate delivering a half-hour rebuttal.