Wake Me Up When the Debates Are Over

Enough is enough. It's time for fewer presidential debates with fewer candidates. And real debates, not these freeze-dried forums in which candidates give sound-bite answers that are overly parsed by a media settling for the trivial pursuit of degrees of difference. It's time to drill down into the big issues with the candidates, the candidates who have realistic chances to win, that is, and get them to engage in a serious back-and-forth. That's what a real debate is about, and that's why Hillary Clinton saying she doesn't want to say where she stands on some key issues like, oh, say, you know, getting Al Qaeda, merely the folks who attacked us on 9/11, is so silly.

Tuesday night's AFL-CIO affair with the Democrats in Chicago drew the lowest audience yet, less than a million. At this rate, the campaign will already have bored us to tears by the time it gets going in earnest with the primaries and caucuses of January.

I'm a political analyst by trade, as into this campaign as anyone, and I could barely force myself to watch the thing. I was much more interested in the new William Gibson novel, which I nearly read through the "debate." I would have done, actually, but for the fact that my blog readers at New West Notes were going to want at least some sort of report.

These events were fun in the beginning. Going to the first, in Carson City, Nevada this past February, was a blast. We hadn't seen the candidates together before. But after six months and scores of these things -- most, thankfully, untelevised -- they simply haven't developed as events. The cattle show of real contenders and wannabes in each of the parties still crowd onto the stage, play a game of verbal ping-pong with once-over-lightly answers to disparate questions, and move on to whatever's next on their schedules.

Let's have real debates, with focus on big issues, like reforming education, protecting the environment, winning the Terror War beyond Iraq. And let's clear the stage of the folks who have no chance of being the next president of the United States.

I remember the Reagan Library debate in May. I was still working out which one was Sam Brownback and which was Mike Huckabee. Actually, they might as well be the same guy, because neither one is going to be president.

Tommy Thompson, you're the wrong Thompson. Tom Tancredo, your one issue of anti-immigration is already co-opted. Duncan Hunter, you were a big wheel as House Armed Services chairman. But a presidential campaign isn't an act of decompression. Ron Paul may be the fastest runner ever to run for president (I'm told he ran a 9.7 second 100-yard dash back in the day), but all his campaign is accomplishing is reminding us that Internet polls aren't exactly scientific.

Let's put Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, assuming he gets around to running, Mitt Romney, and John McCain up there and let them have at it.

On the Democratic side, Dennis Kucinich is a good guy. I like him. He's running the same anti-war campaign he ran in 2004. The high water mark of which was his carrying Maui. Wowie.

Mike Gravel is entertaining, but in what way is he a real candidate for president? Sure, he was a U.S. senator. Back in the '70s. From Alaska. Which then had fewer people than most California counties you've heard of.

Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are major U.S. senators, chairs of the Foreign Relations and Banking committees. Biden wants to talk about his plan to partition Iraq. He already has the forum to do that. Dodd always wanted to run for president. He's finally gotten around to it. Maybe in a different year, these two credible senators would be real contenders. But not this year. This year, there are four real contenders.

Let's put Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson up on stage and see what they can do when they're not limited to the short, essentially unrevealing answers we've been getting.

What we have going now is a turn-off and a dumbed-down bore. And with America facing huge choices as a country, it's a disservice to our democracy.