When it comes to political debates, few rise to the mark of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. The Republicans' Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas for the Democrats went at it, hammer and tong, in seven, three-hour debates and they were debating nothing less than the future of slavery in America.
The way the debates were structured is interesting. The first guy up spoke for 60-minutes. His opponent spoke for 90-minutes. Then the first guy got a 30-minute rebuttal. As the incumbent, Douglas got to open in four of the debates.
Those were debates. Issues discussed and argued at length. You've got to believe something to be able to effectively discuss it for 90-minutes. You have to have a message that's forceful and effective.
When I was in school students had to recite a quota of lines of poetry or prose. The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service was popular with the boys because it was vivid, easy to remember and quite long.
Today's debates are a pale shadow of what we used to do in high school. Hell, there's airtime involved. Nobody gets to talk for more than a couple of minutes just enough to recite a few talking points, parry an opponent's attack and, if lucky, stick him with a quick thrust you hope the folks at home will remember.
These modern debates aren't really debates at all. There's no time for meaningful discussion of ideas. No time to convey to the electorate why they should support you and your vision, not the other candidate's. It's all about zingers, the rhetorical equivalent of spitballs. Sarah Palin managed to write hers on the palm of her hand.
And that, kids, is why people like Donald Trump can emerge victorious in the Republican debates. In fact that's why all but one or two of them are spared the humiliation of having to reveal they don't have ideas in their heads at all, just bullet points memorized.
Okay, so we've got the realities of television and audiences with the attention span of ruminants but why can't we at least give them 15 or 20-minutes because there's nothing better to expose the idiots, to cull the herd. Can you imagine what would have happened if Sarah Palin was told to say something, anything, coherent for 20-minutes without notes? She would have self-destructed at a podium on live TV. If she had to be capable of meeting that standard, McCain would never have considered her.
But it is what it is which is why most of the people at these debates are really just sideshow hustlers, carnies. And this is how the Republicans will choose their leader.