Thomas Sowell
The so-called "debates" among Republican presidential aspirants are classic examples of the media spreading misunderstanding instead of enlightenment. The ancient admonition, "With all you're getting, get understanding" has been replaced in the media by, "With all you're getting, get sound bites -- and, if possible, 'gotcha' sound bites."

After all the media hype over Governor Rick Perry's having called Social Security "a Ponzi scheme," viewers are no more informed than before as to what specifically is a Ponzi scheme, what are the objections to such schemes, and whether those same objections apply to Social Security.

Even if such questions were answered, we would still not have weighed the alternatives to Social Security. Serious issues like that cannot be covered in sound bites or with "gotcha" questions from the media.

The whole "debate" format, with far more candidates than have any realistic chance of getting the nomination, means that serious issues cannot get serious attention, because there is just not enough time with so many people. Most of what we learn from those "debates" is who is glib and fast on his feet.

We already have a president who is glib and fast on his feet. But he is a disaster when it comes to the economy, among other things. Do we need more of the same from Republicans?

We need leaders who have thought through many complex issues facing the country, not leaders with flashy words and snappy comebacks.

A real debate between two candidates, such as the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 19th century, could bring out what the fundamental differences between the candidates are -- and in the process enlighten the public on issues that affect their lives. But the short attention span of today's population means that something like the Lincoln-Douglas debates would have a very small audience.

What are called candidate "debates" today are questions from media journalists, with the time allotted for the answers being too short for anything other than quick and superficial responses. Yet, with so many aspiring candidates on stage and a fixed time limit on how long the program will be broadcast, it is hard to see how there could be a more thoughtful discussion within the confines of this particular format.

What would be far more informative would be to have an hour-long interview with each of the candidates who has some serious chance of winning the Republican nomination. That would cut the number down to two or three, and allow us to get some real idea about how deeply those two or three have thought through the weighty issues facing this country.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate