Bill Murchison
We didn't used to have long seasons of debate by earnest people wanting to show us why they should be president. But then we didn't have Twitter, estimated debt in the trillions of dollars or -- to the degree we have it now -- angst over the survival of our liberties.

This means we should get used to a lot of debates. And further, that these puppet shows with cute questions ("Leno or Letterman?") and choreographed camaraderie bear some direct relationship to liberty's prospects in the new century.

You can no longer, alas, ignore people on television. The thing you can't really ignore is what these people want to do for you, because they are vying for the power to do it.

The New Hampshire debate among seven Republican presidential candidates was no landmark of popular entertainment or political science, but it did put the White House's resident magician on notice. His well-known conjuring trick of building, then smashing, Slurpee-drinking Republican straw men and asking us to be grateful, is past its heyday. Barack Obama can expect hard questions henceforth; he should prepare to deliver hard answers or face the consequences.

Nor do the media -- whose doubts, if any, concerning Obama rarely spill into coverage of his administration -- enjoy the power to ignore such questions as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann (etc., etc.) bring to bear.

The notion of accountability for the employment of power techniques is baked into the American concept of government. What you do, you answer for -- assuming you're called on to answer. This is where the candidates come in. "John," says Mitt Romney, addressing the moderator, "any one of the people on this stage would be a better president than President Obama."

Not so, Mr. Obama? Tell us why. Tell us specifically why you're better than the lot of these. Then let's hear the comebacks. The beauty of free speech is beautifully on display in these encounters, and it's about time.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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