Moderating With a Hard Hand

Posted: Nov 09, 2011 10:10 PM

There were three primary moderators for much of the debate on Wednesday: CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, Jim Cramer, and John Harwood. And if their most important job was to make sure everyone knew the candidates had only 30 seconds to answer questions, they succeeded.

There was the moment where Bartiromo and Gingrich went head to head on Obamacare.

"Would you like to try to explain in simple speak to the American people what you would do after you repeal the president's health care legislation?" Bartiromo demanded after Gingrich suggested trying to answer her question--if ObamaCare is repealed, then what?--in 30 seconds was a ridiculous task to ask of the candidates.

Another awkward moment came when the moderators turned a debate entitled Your Money, Your Vote and which carried heavy economic overtones into a 'let's ask Herman Cain about the latest scandal' fiasco. After the audience booed the question related to the scandal (and which Cain answered), Harwood tried to bait Romney into answering a question on the charges against Cain. Romney politely declined.

Harwood was forced to retreat: "Governor Huntsman, let me switch back to the economy."

And then, there were moments when, trying to take a hard line, the moderator got schooled.

Maria to Romney: "Governor Romney, respond in 30 seconds. Not one of your 59 points in your economic plan mentions or addresses housing. Can you tell us why?"

Romney: "Yes, because it's not a housing plan. It's a jobs plan."

This doesn't even include all the times Jim Cramer sounded like he was going to explode if he didn't fit 100 words into one breath. Or when he was extremely rude to Herman Cain:

"This question does not lend itself to 9-9-9 or any other thing. This is our final word, OK? And it comes from our viewers," Cramer said at one point.

Yes, it gets annoying when candidates say the same thing over and over. But schedule enough debates, and that will happen. It's also no excuse to be disrespectful.

The debate certainly wasn't slow paced, but the moderators' abrasive tone overshadowed much of it.