Bob Barr

The performance by Martha Raddatz in Debate Number Two between Biden and Ryan, was no exception, either. If a moderator is permitted to cut off one candidate repeatedly while allowing the other to interrupt and drone on and on at will, then such forum becomes less a fair debate between two participants than a two-on-one rumble.

If a moderator simply sits back and lets the participants "go at it" -- as appears to have been first debate moderator Jim Lehrer's goal -- then why even have a moderator? If the candidates are allowed to simply repeat themselves at will, and blatantly refuse to abide by the rules of the debate they agreed to in the first place, why have a debate? (By the same token, if candidates ignore rules to which they have agreed and refuse to exercise common courtesy and professionalism in debate, perhaps this tells us something about their leadership styles and the role ego plays in how they deal with matters of importance -- but that's not the point of a debate.)

There are hundreds of fine journalists who regularly inform us of what is happening in the world around us; and innumerable commentators who provide intelligent and objective insight on public policy matters. Many of these men and women appear regularly on news programs in my home town of Atlanta; there are many others on stations and in communities from New York to San Diego. Why do we feel ourselves bound to limit the pool from which national debate moderators are chosen, to only journalists of so-called (and often self-defined) "national stature?" Why keep going back to the same well?

And why do we succumb to the irresistible urge to constantly tinker with and change the format for the debates? Why not utilize a single, clear format for every debate every cycle -- a format that neither gets in the way of the debaters nor "favors" one side or the other? A format with parameters that actually lift the process to a level commensurate with what ought to be the gravity and high professionalism of those persons seeking to be offered the most important political job in the world? And if the candidates' spinmeisters don't like it, so what? Presidential and vice-presidential debates are not about campaign staff or consultants, and it is high time we as a people took control and reminded them and their candidates of that important fact.

Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.