What if candidates sparred in live, text-based exchanges?
Why do we assume that presidential debates should be broadcast on and organized around television, the most vacuous medium in American life? In informal experiments, TV has been shown to decrease brain function so drastically that viewers routinely sit through Real Housewives marathons. TV increases suggestibility so much that Axe Body Spray ad campaigns are cost effective. TV is the place where physical attractiveness, affected theatrics, and body language matter, and where journalists are successful partly based on their ability to have good hair.
Yet it isn't just where we decide to hold our presidential debates. It is the only medium that is considered! It's no wonder that everything we remember about past debates is embarrassingly superficial. Ronald Reagan got angry and insisted he paid for a microphone. Another time he had a clever one-liner, deflecting concerns about his age by joking about "the youth and inexperience" of his opponent. Dan Quayle got told he was no Jack Kennedy. Michael Dukakis seemed unperturbed when asked a hypothetical about his wife being raped and killed. Al Gore sighed and physically approached George W. Bush. These are among the most memorable debate exchanges in recent history, and every last one ought to have been totally irrelevant to assessing the given candidates.
On Twitter last night, Julian Sanchez wrote, "I basically feel about the debates the way Clarence Thomas feels about oral argument. Everything substantive is in the briefs; I don't care who's quicker on their feet in a verbal sparring match." In the GOP primary this year, the televised debates permitted Americans to get to know a bunch of candidates in a relatively efficient manner, and helped eliminate several who couldn't think on their feet well enough to be president.