“From wherever you stood, the opposing side offered respectable, credible views. In today's fractured culture the evening struck a blow for civility.”
- The Huffington Post
September 28, 2012
Wednesday night. Romney vs. Obama. Live. The 28th episode in America’s long-running television series — the presidential debates — in which two men go on stage and face off without scripts or teleprompters, and with the ever-present possibility of getting trounced or humiliated. In presidential politics, a debate — a real debate — is a test like no other.
That’s why none of us has never seen one. A true debate is just too risky. From 1960 onward, the events called presidential debates have delivered not clashes of of rhetorical greatness but the spectacle of two people engaged in dueling job interviews. These interviews unfold side by side in front of the same human resources representative, and the skill needed to land the position is much the same as the one eighth-graders rely on to win spelling bees: the ability to memorize the answers to the questions ahead of time, then repeat them, precisely as learned. Debates? Modern politicians don’t partake in debates. Not real ones.
Now, I serve on real debates. I know real debates. Real debaters are friends of mine. And these campaign-season sessions are not real debates. In fact, I would argue in the affirmative for the following proposition: We must change the format of the presidential debates.
Because the format is the problem. While the Commission on Presidential Debates, which stages these events, was criticized this year for booking too few female and minority moderators, and perennially for excluding third-party candidates, the more entrenched issue is the structure of the debates themselves. They are designed to keep the candidates from getting into trouble or embarrassing themselves by looking mean, uninformed or scared. That is a backward priority. A debate is a contest, a competition, a battle. The rules should be calibrated to produce the best contest possible, not to protect the contestants from themselves.
When candidates debate each other, they should debate each other. In a real debate, the participants engage, they grapple, they get into each other’s hair (metaphorically, of course). Without that clash of ideas and personalities, there’s no point in getting the two sides together on one stage. But in the presidential debates over the years, the rules have bizarrely permitted the candidates to “debate” without actually addressing each other. Some have spent the entire night studiously avoiding eye contact. Their escape mechanism is the moderator, designated as the one person on stage whom both candidates must address, in a weirdly triangulated conversation, as they work through the questions the moderator poses. So it becomes those questions, not the candidates’ ideas or personalities, driving the discussion. It feels hollow. It feels forced. There’s a simple fix for this: Make these candidates talk to each other.
September 13, 2012
Super-political action committees sound patriotic, as defined by David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics: “It’s Americans getting together and pooling their money to talk to other Americans.”
Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, takes a darker view that super-PACs could hurt the country by corrupting the elected officials who benefit from their election spending.
April 18, 2012
Last night, Intelligence Squared U.S. continued its spring 2012 season with a victory for the motion “When it Comes to Politics, The Internet is Closing Our Minds.” In the final tally, Eli Pariser and Siva Vaidhyanathan won the Oxford-style debate by convincing 25% of the audience to change their minds and oppose the motion.
April 18, 2012
If you live in Manhattan and get hungry for pizza, you’ll probably want your Google search for “pizza” to return local results. In fact, the more the search engine knows about your location and preferences, the better off you are. But does the same hold true for politics? Should Internet companies aim to serve you the news stories that best suit your taste? Think of Tuesday’s Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate in New York as a contest between pizza and politics.
April 17, 2012
They say that anyone who knows what’s good for him will avoid arguing on the Internet. But what of arguing about the Internet? That’s what four net-centric thinkers — MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser, “Googlization of Everything” author Siva Vaidhyanathan, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg and “Net Delusion” author Evgeny Morozov — did Tuesday at an Oxford-style debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. and held here in New York.
April 09, 2012
Does an Internet that cloisters us in ideological cocoons hurt our political life? Or are the Web’s skeptics just the latest in a long line of alarmists who don’t understand how technology is transforming civic discourse for the better? Optimists cheer the way social media and blogs have broadened our horizons beyond a handful of news networks. They insist that personalization enriches (but does not replace) a responsible media diet and that chance still rules the Web. On April 17, four writers and cyber-philosophers will cross swords over these issues at the next Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. live debate.
November 03, 2011
[T]wo teams squared off last month to debate the question of whether Congress should pass President Obama’s jobs plan – piecemeal, if necessary. The debate, held under the auspices of Intelligence Squared US, pitted Moody’s Analytics economist Mark Zandi and Princeton University policy wonk Cecilia Rouse against Richard Epstein, an NYU law professor, and Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute, with the latter duo arguing that what’s needed for the economy to rebound and ultimately create new jobs is structural reform, not what Mitchell called “faux stimulus.”
October 27, 2011
There was really no point to any further debate, but I went to the debate, anyway. It was part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate Series at New York University's Skirball Center on Tuesday night. The topic: "Congress Should Pass Obama's Jobs Plan--Piece By Piece." It was fun watching four wonkish brainiacs flagellate each other over a $447 billion stimulus plan that was pretty much dead on arrival weeks ago.
October 25, 2011
Last night NYU’s Skirball Center saw an overwhelming victory for the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, “Congress Should Pass Obama’s Jobs Plan – Piece By Piece.” According to the final votes, Cecilia Rouse and Mark Zandi won the debate by convincing 24% of the audience to change their minds to support the motion, thus winning the Oxford style debate. They argued Obama’s jobs plan is a necessary step toward avoiding another recession and stimulus legislation will stem an economic downturn.
October 25, 2011
Earlier this week, President Obama, ardent lover of three-word mantras, introduced a new slogan for his American Jobs Act: "We can't wait!" The president exhorted Congress to act on the jobs creation plan he introduced in September. The audience at last night's Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. live debate at NYU's Skirball Center vehemently agreed with the president: After the conclusion of the debate, 69 percent voted for the motion "Congress should pass Obama's jobs bill—piece by piece"; 22 percent voted against the motion; and 9 percent were undecided.
February 25, 2011
What happens when you get a few “intellectuals” together? You get a few critical shots at things with mass appeal.
February 17, 2011
Earlier this week, I spent two hours arguing with a very witty libertarian and an avuncular Israeli Rush Limbaugh fan about whether the two-party system is ruining America. No, it wasn't just another typical night around my dinner table. It was part of a debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared, held at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
February 17, 2011
Even Arianna Huffington can't win 'em all. Paired with conservative pundit David Brooks in what should have been a dream team, she was soundly defeated in Tuesday night's Intelligence² debate at NYU's Skirball Center. The contest pitted Huffington and Brooks against satirist P.J. O'Rourke and journalist Zev Chafets. The topic: the merits of the two-party system.
February 16, 2011
The latest round in America’s premier debate series, Intelligence Squared Debates, pitted President and Editor-in-Chief of Huffington Post Media Group, Arianna Huffington and New York Times columnist David Brooks, against America’s premier political satirist P.J. O’Rourke, and Zev Chafets, contributor to the New York Times Magazine and founding editor of the Jerusalem Report.
October 27, 2010
Is big government stifling the American spirit? That was the question posed to panelists at last night's Intelligence Squared debate in the Skirball Center. Among the guests was Stern professor Nouriel Roubini, who was nicknamed "Dr. Doom" by the New York Times after he successfully predicted the financial crisis as early as September 2006.
December 05, 2008
Karl Rove made the claim as the president's inner circle launched an unofficial "Bush legacy project", with their old boss preparing to leave the White House next month.
December 02, 2008
Karl Rove, a close confidant and former adviser to President Bush, said Tuesday he did not believe the administration would have gone to war in Iraq had intelligence indicated Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, contradicting some of his former boss's previous statements.
December 02, 2008
George W. Bush is the worst United States president of the last fifty years.
December 02, 2008
Karl Rove -- the architect, the one-time senior White House adviser to President Bush -- walked into the lion's den Tuesday night to argue that his former boss is not the worst president of the past 50 years.