Lincoln-Douglas debates?

Clinton offers. Obama should accept.

No moderators, just candidates.

The Clinton campaign has now proposed the idea. I prefer (and proposed some time ago) a different set of rules: the 90-minute exchange of 2-minute soundbites proposed by the Clinton camp could get excruciatingly dull, doesn’t really resemble the Lincoln-Douglas rules, and is designed to maximize Clinton’s advantage in sound-bites and minimize Obama’s advantage in sustained argument. My alternative:

* A seven-minute opening statement by each side. (14 mins)

* Each candidate, taking turns, gets four chances to ask a two-minute question to the other, who is allowed five minutes for a response. (56 mins)

* Ten-minute closing statements, with whoever makes the second opening statement going last. (20 mins)

Or you could simplify by using a chess clock: each candidate has a total of 45 minutes, with one making the first speech and the other making the last, and complete flexibility within those limits.

Whatever the details, the basic idea has to be right, and introducing that format as an option for November would hugely advantage either Democrat against McCain.

If you’re the Obama camp right now, with victory seemingly secure, it’s hard to resist the temptation to play it safe. But this is one temptation that should be resisted. Obama ought to jump on this. At a minimum, it would get the taste of that disgusting ABC debate out of the voters’ mouths.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com