"Bypassing the TV networks, the presidential debate commission and all the other muckety-mucks who have seized control of the campaign dialogue, McCain simply dropped the newly nominated Obama a note saying, in effect, let's get it on.A few days ago, I asked how we arrived at the unfortunate point where our "debates" are nothing more than venues for pre-rehearsed sound bites.
This simple-sounding idea, which stirred no great excitement last week, could turn out to be one of the best things to happen to our politics maybe since the enfranchisement of women. Too bad it was eclipsed by the Adventures of Hillary."
In his column today, Broder helps answer that question:
"Ever since Jerry Ford, that good man, as an incumbent president challenged Jimmy Carter to debate in 1976, we have institutionalized a small number of debates -- or really joint news conferences -- between the major candidates. The first such debates were held in 1960, under a law that allowed the networks to sponsor them without providing equal time for minor candidates. The country was captivated by the Kennedy-Nixon encounters. But Lyndon Johnson was nowhere near that generous to Barry Goldwater; Richard Nixon stiffed his opponent in 1968 and 1972, and the debates might well have disappeared had Ford not emerged from his convention trailing Jimmy Carter -- and in need of the image of bravado communicated by his decision to be the first incumbent president to enter a television debate.
Most years, the autumn debates were the main events of the campaign, drawing the largest audiences and having the maximum impact. But over time, these debates have become more and more ritualistic and less and less useful to voters."