If there’s one thing we can agree on as a nation – and I believe it is literally the only thing we can agree on as a nation – it is that the 2016 Vice Presidential debate was completely useless. The first Presidential debate was useful only as spectacle, provided one can enjoy the spectacle of a graduate school professor reading complex explanations of facts while standing next to an in-progress chemical fire. The second Presidential debate was only useful for women who needed to explain to men why it’s creepy for them to keep pace three feet behind a woman’s shoulder when she’s walking alone at night. Never before have so many men said “Oh. Yeah, that’s super creepy!” in unison.
Even if we go back to the Republican primary debates, their main value was in the form of so-bad-it’s-delicious entertainment, like Florence Foster Jenkins or screenings of The Room. But even those festivals of drinking games and Twitter snarking lose some of their savor in retrospect when we think about where they got us.
Our political debates suck, and it isn’t cute anymore. We either need to stop having them entirely and have the candidates release issue-by-issue position statements that all the newspapers and websites agree to post side by side, or we need to set up some new rules to keep viewers from sliding into despair and overuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and Funyuns.
These rules won’t solve our broken political system, won’t remove the two-party stranglehold on our political offices, and won’t stop the election from being a year-long crash of a carnival train. They won’t, unless we add an agreement to wire them for powerful electric shocks, stop TV commentators from deciding who “won” the debates based on breezy, relaxed lying instead of actual good arguments. But they will allow the country to follow the election without quite so much ipecac and extended therapy sessions afterward.
1. Every debate shall be fact-checked while in progress.
One of the biggest problems with the debates is that more and more viewers get their news exclusively from partisan news outlets and from self-tailored feeds like Twitter and Facebook. Which means they go into it knowing what their candidates want them to know and watch assuming that only their preferred candidates are telling the truth, none of which will ever be contradicted by any of the news and politics sources they’re going to see. Candidates are well aware of that and have really stepped up the baldfaced lying in recent years. And thus a huge segment of the population leaves the debates with their minds unchanged and a bafflement as to why any sane or decent person could support the other candidate. Absent outright freakouts and creepy body language, we have handed all advantage to those candidates who are willing to lie the most.
Thus, all future debates shall have 20 minutes of debate followed by 10 minutes of commercials or network commentary while a bipartisan team of fact-checkers deliberates. After that, the candidates’ mics shall be muted while there is an on-air announcement by the moderators of questionable statements and outright lies. The candidates shall have their lies tallied behind them for the rest of the debate.
2. Recycling previously used lies shall be immediately punished.
Almost as offensive as this election’s rampant lying is the refusal to put any real effort into the lies themselves. There was a time when a political candidate, having been caught in a blatant falsehood, would at least pivot to a new prevarication. Not so today when candidates can rely on a sizable chunk of the electorate never seeing the debunking and simply repeat the lie as much as they care to.
To prevent this, all moderators shall each have a list of lies that have already been punctured. Should a candidate attempt to use one, the moderator shall not wait for the fact check. Instead, he or she shall simply press a large red button, causing a large red X to appear across the screen and a loud moose call to boom throughout the arena.
The moderator is honor-bound to unleash The Moose for as many times as it takes to get the candidate to stop attempting to repeat the lie.
3. Pageant Pivots shall be scored accordingly.
If a candidate is asked one question and immediately pivots to a different stock talking point – for example, if one is asked about his record of sexual assault and immediately starts talking about ISIS – the Pageant Pivot harp noise will play and the question shall be scored as unanswered on a tally next to the candidate’s lies. If and only if there is time remaining at the end of the debate, the candidates shall be offered another chance to answer. Should the candidate attempt a second pivot on that topic, the candidate forfeits the question. The candidate with the most unresolved pivots at the end of the debate shall be offered a crown, sash, and flowers.
4. No interrupting, jerkoffs.
If a candidate interrupts another candidate with interjections of any kind, the candidate who was interrupted is immediately awarded a full extra minute to speak. If a candidate reaches five interruptions, he or she forfeits a minute on his or her next question. Should a candidate reach ten interruptions, he or she will be muted during other candidates’ answers for the rest of debate. In addition, there will be a one-minute period during which the interrupter’s mic shall be turned off and other candidates may take potshots at will.
5. Final-race candidates shall be banned from television commentary for three years.
The motive for running for President or Vice President should be a desire to hold national office. It is wrong and undignified to incentivize a candidate to do anything else. Plus bitching about the candidate who won always comes off as sour grapes.
6. Primary candidates shall be banned from television commentary for five years.
That’s right: A longer ban for candidates who only make the primaries. Our current system lavishly and appallingly rewards politicians who run fake candidacies in the hopes that a few months of soundbite notoriety and the gravitas of having run for office will get them lavish speaking fees, pumped-up book sales, and a cushy cable job during which they get to say whatever the hell they want and are never penalized for being wrong. And what did that get us? Seventeen Republican candidates and a nominee who ran during a short break from vulva-grabbing mostly because he needed an ego boost and the fraudulent university wasn’t working out.
7. No more Rudy Giuliani.
Not on television, not on the Internet, not on the radio, ever ever ever. It’s one small thing we can do to make the world a better place.