A presidential debate worth watching

debate clinton bush
Graphic: POLITICO/Getty

Good evening, everyone. I’m Josh Bernoff, your moderator for the PBS/WOBS presidential debate, here in Washington, DC. This is a historic debate in a brand-new format, which I’ll now describe.

For the first time, we’ve brought together the leading candidates from both parties in one debate. There are no time limits on your answers. However, I and my fellow moderators each have a series of buttons in front of us. Should your answer go off topic, we’ll just cut off your mike and go on to the next question.

debate moderators
OnInnovation/Flickr, NASA/Wikimedia Commons, Randy Stewart/Wikimedia Commons, Federal Reserve/Wikimedia Commons

Let me introduce our moderators for tonight’s debate. Elon Musk is a highly successful entrepreneur and CEO of Tesla Motors.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is an author, scientist, and director the Hayden Planetarium. Nate Silver is the founder of fivethirtyeight.com and an incisive political observer and forecaster. And Ben Bernanke is an economist, the former head of the Federal Reserve Bank. We’ve chosen these moderators because of their creative outlooks, focus on the future, and ironclad dedication to facts over opinions and emotional appeals.

Each of our moderators has in front of him a Microsoft Surface or Apple iPad tablet. They’re in communication with other experts around the world, and have full access to the Internet. They’ve researched the content on your Websites and will be interrupting you should you make a claim that is at odds with past statements, or with established facts.

To be fair to the candidates, we’ve also placed a tablet at each candidate’s podium. As would be the case in the real world, candidates are in contact with their own experts through these devices, and can research information on the Web in real time. Using these devices, the candidates can even project information on a screen that everyone in the audience and at home can see.

We’ve asked the moderators to share most of their questions in advance with the candidates — we’re interested in carefully considered answers, not responses to “gotcha” questions. This is about substance, not theater. My hope is that we can all learn something new tonight.

With this format, we will be able to judge the candidates on how well they make decisions and present themselves with full information and preparation, rather than just posturing with quick one-liners and pandering to the crowd. And by putting Democrats and Republicans together on one stage, we hope to see a debate that emphasizes differences, rather than just slight shades of meaning in the position of one party or the other.

Now let’s begin. Mr. Musk, please ask your first question . . .

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  1. If the candidates are given questions in advance and access to their own experts, then whose responses would we be getting?

    1. In the real world, leaders have advisors. What matters is how they execute on that advice and communicate about it.

      What we’re learning now is how well candidates can deliver canned speeches and improvise one-liners. Those are not the main skills our next president needs.

  2. Dare to dream. A debate without bullshit. The only additional thing I would wish for is that if someone had their mic turned off twice, the third time a trap door would open and they’d plunge into a tank filled with sharks with friggin’ lasers on their heads.

  3. A large smile crossed my face as I read your description of a dream debate. And then it turned to a frown with furrowed brow when I noticed that all of your panelists are male; surely you can do better.

    1. This certainly crossed my mind. For this post, my moderators need to have these qualities: (1) well known, (2) indisputably intelligent, (3) not biased in favor of liberals or conservatives, either politically neutral or above politics. I’ve avoided known media figures since those were the “obvious” choices and most of them are biased one way or the other.

      I think there may be women who fit (2) or (3) but haven’t got the visibility for (1). And there are certainly women who are intelligent and well-known, but the ones that come to mind are identified with either left or right.

      Who would you suggest?

      1. Thanks for asking! Here are a few possibilities that I consider demonstrate your identified qualities (while some served in Democratic administrations, they’re not necessarily identified as being ideologues):
        1. Sheryl Sandberg
        2. Madelyn Albright
        3. Ruth Simmons

        1. Thanks for doing your homework!

          Madeleine Albright (correct spelling) would be a good choice, but I think Republicans might object to a Democratic secretary of state. In the same way, I don’t think Condoleeza Rice would be a choice that democrats could accept.

          Sheryl Sandberg is an interesting and notable choice. I’d like to see that!

          I was not familiar with Ruth Simmons. When I looked her up, I saw that she serves on a bunch of corporate boards but was picked for some advisory type roles by the Obama administration. Based on her background, I think she’s nonpartisan enough, and as a former university president she’s clearly smart enough. She’s sort of middling on the notoriety side, but I’d certainly be interested in her perspective. And I’d love a panel with two people of color.

          Worth thinking about!

          1. Thanks for the spelling correction (knew I should’ve looked that up) & the thoughtful reply. I’m greatly enjoying your blog, which I came to via a pointer from Dave Winer.

  4. Ben Bernanke’s perpetual smirk reflects his success in getting away with murder.
    The purpose of the Fed is to make U.S. citizens and our country powerless, to destroy the economy, and make as much money for themselves as possible.
    Why would you want someone whose goal is to disenfranchised voters and lead us toward communism and death, to be the one to ask candidates anything?
    His creativity lies in obfuscation, not enlightenment.