The Perfect Presidential Debate

SCENE: A large living room, furnished with sofas, chairs, ottomans, side tables and coffee tables. To one side, a beverage service outfitted with coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice and ice, as well as bottled beer, liquor, mixes and wines, and appropriate glasses and cups. On the side and coffee tables, various snack foods — pretzels, popcorn, crackers, cheese, vegetables, cold cuts of meat, and dipping sauces, with utensils, napkins and small plates. Ash trays should be set on the tables.

LIGHTS UP evenly across all parts of the scene

ENTER all participating candidates, each fitted with a personal microphone and earpiece. All mikes are “hot”; audio from each microphone is fed to all candidates simultaneously through the earpiece. Everything anyone says can be heard by everyone else simultaneously.

A SINGLE STATIONARY CAMERA shows a high angle view of the whole room. The angle must be such that no candidate can step out of frame at any time. The camera shot remains open and steady throughout the program.

There is no live audience. There are no moderators or journalists. There are no advisors or consultants. There is no visible crew on site, because all audio and video is fixed and stationary. There are no television monitors. The candidates cannot see themselves “on-screen” and do not get live feedback to anything they say or do.

For 120 minutes, without interruption, the candidates interact with one another as a group while the audio and video are broadcast live. There are no predefined topics or questions. The candidates must determine, individually and as a group, during the 120 minute program, how to conduct themselves, what to talk about, who to address. They must decide whether to eat or drink anything, and if so, what and when and how. They must decide whether to smoke or not, and whether to ask others to stop smoking. They must survive 120 minutes with no interruptions, no restroom breaks. They must decide whether to stand or sit or pace, and where, and whether to face the single camera or to face the person they are talking or listening to. They must decide how to dress, whether to leave their coat on or take it off, and if they take it off, where to put it.

After 120 minutes, all cameras and microphones abruptly turn off. The program is over. There are no opening statements or closing statements.

The purpose of this exercise is to see how each candidate is able to assert leadership, take charge, set the agenda, drive the discussion, manage the time, interact with others.

Being President means that you must be able to do this — to be a leader in a room full of “the best and the brightest” minds, typically people whom you, as President, chose to give you great advice and information. As President, you must know how to listen to them as well as how to balance what they say against what else you know. As President, you must assess what everyone says, and then you must drive the conversation toward the decision you know you must make and find a way to persuade everyone else to agree.

Q & A sessions don’t do this. Sound bites don’t do this. Sharp attacks and sniping don’t do this. Smug reporters and pundits don’t do this. Clever analysts don’t do this.

But putting everyone in a room together with a blank sheet of paper will reveal everything we need to know about them.

 

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