I want televised debates. Not shouting matches, and definitely not 10-second-soundbite debates. I want the kind of debate you do in high school, where each side gets three minutes to present their side of an argument, and the other side gets a rebuttal and then their argument, etc. If people think this is too slow for TV, put a frame on the side with bullet point summaries. Debate shouldn’t be a process reserved for political candidates, and it shouldn’t be painful, although we make it so because we never do it. Debate is the most direct way to challenge your opinions and test your rationales. Furthermore, it builds the intelligence, rhetorical skill, and information of the audience. I wish we could get professors, big business, rightwing nutcases, totally ordinary people, leftwing nutcases, and the Army on the TV screen for debate. Disagreement makes compelling TV, as anyone who watches reality TV can tell you. The writers in reality TV script in extra conflict to increase the tension and thus the viewership. Why can’t we do the same for our opinions?
In Britain they have the House of Commons, and every month the Prime Minister has to present himself for questioning. Not only is that entertaining, but Britain’s better off for it. Tony Blair has to defend his positions, and is held accountable for how he’s governed.
We need debate because no one in America listens to anyone else anymore. Right-leaning people can read WSJ, Drudge Report, and watch Fox News, left-leaning people can read NYT and watch CNN, and the president can listen to his Cabinet, and get completely different descriptions of the same events. Debate makes everyone watch the same thing and confronts viewers with contrary opinions. Here’s a sample card. Put this on PrimeTime one after the other and make Bryant Gumbel the host, everyone likes Bryant Gumbel. Tell me you wouldn’t pay to watch these.
Lawrence Lessig vs. the RIAA
McDonalds vs. Morgan Spurlock
Michael Moore vs. Bill O’Reilly
Billy Graham vs. Michael Newdow (the guy who sued to remove the Pledge of Allegiance)
Dave Chappelle vs. The White Race
Single Mother vs. Her Aborted Fetus (Republicans would try to stage this one, I swear)
David Bowie (“Under Pressure”) vs. Vanilla Ice (It’s Not the Same, I Swear)
Harry Truman (Buck Stops Here) vs. George Bush Jr. (Anyone But Me, Please)
Richard Dawkins vs. Kansas Education Board
Bill vs. Hillary, with Monica as moderator
James Inhofe (“Global Warming is a Giant Hoax”) vs. The Scientific Community
Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson, Part II
Any British MP vs. Any Senator, and I’ll take the MP 99 times out of 100
If you’re with me, spread the word.