More debates?

Sure. Let’s leave out the “moderators,” though, and do it Lincoln-Douglass style.

HRC has challenged Obama to “a debate a week.” Conventional wisdom seems to be that (1) it’s a way for her to save money by getting free media; (2) debating is Obama’s weak point; and therefore (3) he should turn her down.

Obama should certainly stay away from any debate mounted by Fox News. Why subject our candidates to heckling by the opposition dressed as moderators?

But I don’t think he should duck “a debate a week.” That exposure would be good for the eventual nominee. And I deny that Obama is a weak debater.

What is true is that Obama is at his worst (though much better than he used to be) in the answering-idiot-questions-from-journalists kind of debate. He’d do much, much better &#8212 would blow HRC away, in fact &#8212 in the Lincoln-Douglas format: one candidate opens, the other gets a longer speech in the middle, and the opener then closes.

Of course, in the more leisurely 1860s with fewer competing amusements, Lincoln and Douglas had no problems holding crowds together for 3-hour oratorical slugfests: an hour by the opener, an hour and a half by his opponent, and a thirty-minute closer. You couldn’t do that today.

But cut that format in half and mix it up a little.

* A five minute opening statement by each side. (10 mins)

* Each candidate, taking turns, gets four chances to ask a two-and-a-half minute question to the other, who is allowed five minutes for a response. (60 mins)

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

No moderator. Time controlled by lights and then a buzzer. Ninety pretty exciting minutes, in the course of which Barack Obama runs rings around Hillary Clinton.

So that should be his response: “Yes, I’ll do a debate a week. Lincoln-Douglas style. Where would you like to meet first?” If she negotiates him down to alternating weeks between dingbat debate and real debate, that’s a reasonable outcome.

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: