Friendly Fire

After listening to a two-hour Democratic debate on NPR , I’m left wondering why they all can’t be this good. You probably won’t hear much news come out of this debate—there were few accusations, no gotcha questions, and hardly any petty attacks. But that doesn’t mean the debate wasn’t worthwhile. It was probably the most insightful one yet. 

The debate felt like a flashback to more innocent times—an age free of counterattack Websites , split-screen Web videos , and kindergarten essays . That’s because NPR decided to talk about three nuanced issues rather than a broad hodgepodge: Iran, China, and immigration. I had nearly forgotten, but the Democrats actually have similar positions on these and most other issues. The candidates’ cooperative tone was in stark contrast with the accusations that have dominated the campaign trail in the last few weeks.

NPR’s debate was structured to delve deeper into the issues than any other debate. The three moderators—Robert Siegel, Michele Norris, and Steve Inskeep—pressured the Democrats to reveal the nuances of their philosophy on the three issues. There were no lightning rounds , no grandiose introductions , and no questionable questioners . Instead, the candidates sounded like politicians who were truly grappling with the issues at hand. Would they extend a diplomatic hand to Iran at the risk of being used for propaganda? Limit trade with China even if it meant higher prices? Should the average citizen report illegal-immigrant neighbors to authorities, or is that the role of the immigrants’ employers? 

This three-issue approach can be applied to the other debates, seeing as there are so many of them. The Democrats have already staged five televised debates, all of which were partly organized by the DNC. So, why doesn’t the DNC (and the RNC across the aisle) help organize the debates to emphasize policy discussions rather than snipe fests? The general election debates already work this way: Each debate covers a broad topic (e.g., foreign policy and domestic policy) assigned by a bipartisan commission. It seems this would help voters better understand who to vote for and help the candidates better understand their opponents’ messages.

I could tell you who I thought performed best out of the seven candidates at the NPR debate, but it just doesn’t seem appropriate. This was about the issues, not about who made the strongest sound bites. Don’t worry, though, there are more debates to come. Let’s talk about theatrics then.