Unfortunately, having to watch these debates through the filter of high-ego, media-based "moderators," and ever-shifting formats for the sessions, has severely diminished their value to the voters. Until we as a people get serious about using debates between those men and women seeking to lead our nation as vehicles to uncover true substance and meaningful styles of leadership, we are doomed to national debates of value more to campaign "spin masters" than to real understanding of important national issues.
Last night's so-called "town hall" debate between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, moderated by veteran reporter and commentator Candy Crowley, was no exception. The format – which now seems to have become de rigeur for every election cycle – apparently was chosen in order to afford "average voters" the opportunity to interact with the candidates; "true democracy in action," so to speak. But, as we saw last night (and have seen in previous such programs), everything about these events is carefully staged and managed; and indeed the basic format is one demanded by one candidate over the other (in this case, Obama's people) because he or she believes such a format offers an advantage over their opponent.
Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, their candidate failed to capitalize on his perceived strength; failing repeatedly to clearly answer questions about his record on domestic and national security policies.
The moderator -- in last night's debate and in the first two between the presidential candidates and their running mates -- became nearly as much a part of the debate as the participants themselves. When a "moderator" interprets, re-phrases and follows up on questions from audience members, they have interjected themselves into the debate and clearly help to drive its outcome.