Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

New Kind of Presidential Debate

Would you rather see the candidates grilled by Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer or a snowman and a gun nut cradling his "baby," a semi-automatic weapon?

Close call, but isn't there an alternative? The question is prompted by Paul Krugman's column after this week's Democratic debate, claiming Barack Obama was "a sucker" for signing on to fears that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" that will go bankrupt before Baby Boomers can collect what's due them.

Most voters, it's fair to say, would like to know who's blowing smoke here--politicians or dueling economists--but we're not likely to find out from sound-bite answers to ignorant questions.

In our treasured but messy democracy, there is room for college girls to ask Hillary Clinton about diamonds and pearls but so far not for informed political scientists, historians and economists to ask knowledgeable questions that could show us who really understands the issues.

At the end of this month, CNN will give us Republican hopefuls being discomfited by cutesy YouTubers, a spectacle that will undoubtedly produce entertaining insights into how well the candidates handle social embarrassment.

But if we want to know what they know about issues that will affect our lives when one of them takes the oath, couldn't there be at least one debate in which they face those talking heads the networks trot out only on election night to give us perspective on what's been going on or at other times we only hear on PBS?

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but total ignorance, as we know only too well from recent experience, can be disastrous. Along with the snowman and Chris Matthews, can't we have at least one debate with questions from Krugman and his academic peers of various political persuasions?

We should be willing to take the risk of being bored to death to try to avoid being governed by morons.

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