07 November 2005

West (Indies) Wing(ing It)

Despite a love of well-written TV, The Jenius had never seen an episode of "West Wing"... until last night. The live episode portrayed a debate between the two presidential candidates of the show, Matt Santos and Arnold Vinick. Though leaning strongly to the younger, liberal Santos, the show did present a healthy give-and-take of ideas, albeit in soundbite form.

The true genius of the show was tossing out the staid, over-burdened, time-limited, idea-deadening, take-no-chances format of current debates in favor of a more free-wheeling exchange, complete with snide barbs, ad hominem attacks and glibness substituting for substance.

Makes for great TV. Makes for a better democratic process, as well.

Forget presidential debates; they mean diddly-squat here in Puerto Rico, except to political wanks who have nothing better to do. (The Bored Fools.) Let's talk about the monkeyshines that pass for debate here in gubernatorial campaigns.

First of all, in a case of "monkey see, monkey do," candidates here create a shopping list of stipulations just to even plan a freaking debate. What the hairy apes in the States want to do is their problem: We should hold Ourselves to a higher standard.

Here it is: If you want to run for governor, you have to agree to at least 5 debates, all of which are televised live. With a campaign season that lasts four years, it's child's play to fit in 5 debates in 47 months. Even Fools can manage that.

Second of all, the debate format cannot--will not--have ANY conditions imposed by any candidate. None. Every debate is free-format and open to any question or topic. The basic ground rules will only limit the total time of the debate and that the moderator can cut off a candidate if he or she does not follow basic rules of etiquette or keeps interrupting the opponent. (Sticking your tongue out would reclassify you as an idiot and get your microphone turned off for 3 minutes. Although a bat upside the head would have saved Us tons of grief.)

Third, the debate topics and questions would not be prepared by journalists. Our journalists are like the Jamaican bobsled team: energetic, but in over their heads before the clock starts ticking. Instead, a website will list topics, to be ranked in order of importance prior to each debate. Journalism students then prepare the basic questions for each topic, which are then voted on by the public. Top-ranked topics and questions are revealed and printed out 15 minutes before the debate begins. Questions are asked as quickly as possible until the debate or (very unlikely) the questions end.

Fourth: the moderator. One per debate, changed for every debate. One from journalism (because otherwise they'll whine in snotty fashion), one from academia, one from business, one from education and one at large. Chosen at random from a list of volunteers, limited only to people who don't have a criminal record. That eliminates a ton of Fools, though with a little judicious luck, We can eliminate quite a few more.

Odds of this happening: Same as that of Puerto Rico becoming a State: Zero. Zero point zero, to coin a number. But We can strive, or demand, better debates. Our political process needs to grow up, to leave the thumb-sucking (tongue wagging?) stage and try to enter the world of mature discourse.

And for My next trick, The Jenius will solve the budget deficit by firing The Fools.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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