David Butler is a husband, father, grandfather, business executive, entrepreneur, and political observer. To learn more about his current entrepreneurial effort go towww.yourtrueview.com. Jonathan Butler is a husband, father, Marine veteran – and a very unhappy taxpayer.
The 2024 presidential contest is heating up. Right now, the polls indicate that absent one or both candidates being taken down by legal issues, the final race will be a rematch between Biden and Trump. Each appears to relish this prospect. But do we the people have the same enthusiasm?
A Biden-Trump rematch would mean that over the course of three presidential elections beginning with 2016, the major parties will have given us only three options, each of whom was old, white, rich, polarizing, and tainted by scandal (or so the opposing party claims). The two-party system may have been fine in simpler times, but in today’s extreme, polarized, complex, and dangerous world, we deserve better choices – more importantly, we need better choices.
We also deserve a complete understanding of the candidates, their executive capabilities, their approach to problem-solving, their political philosophies, and moral and ethical underpinnings, their temperament under pressure, and their positions and proposed policies on specific issues. What the system will give us does not meet this high bar, or even come close. Instead of a world-class high jump competition, we ask the candidates to step over a rope on the ground and encourage them to disparage their opponents while doing so. Then we vote for the candidate we think will best meet our own polarized expectations.
To summarize, the current system results in a range of problems:
- It provides a limited number of final choices. By late summer of 2024, only two individuals will have any hope of winning come November.
- It provides a limited quality of final choices, witness the recent major party nominees.
- With the help of social media and the mainstream media, all of which have biases, it has degenerated into extreme rather than rational choices.
- It results in major party candidates that often tend towards narcissism rather than humility.
- It provides no meaningful information to allow us to judge a broad range of candidates.
There are legislative or more likely constitutional changes that could address these limitations but the entrenched major party powers would not support any such changes unless they clearly supported their own partisan ends. It seems the politicians and the major parties are happy with a barrage of snail mail in your mailbox and emails in your inbox, snippets of generic, consultant-driven policy positions on a website, rallies that are designed to solidify the candidate’s base rather than persuade new supporters, friendly interviews in biased media outlets, and a few meaningless, superficial, finger-pointing debates. But this is not nearly enough given the importance of the decision. We need much more from our presidential campaign system.
We need candidates to bare their souls, dive deep into the issues, have their knowledge, experience, and positions questioned and tested, prove that they are both rational and reasonable, and make it clear just how extreme they are on any given subject. We propose to use technology, the media, journalists, and subject-matter experts to accomplish this by replacing the superficial debates with a series of in-depth candidate interrogations (not merely interviews) on a range of key topics. They would resemble long-form podcasts that are available on the internet for all voters to digest. Details are beyond the scope of this general proposal, but the following framework is provided for consideration.
Sponsor – There should be a non-partisan organization that sponsors and implements the process. The League of Women Voters, which has sponsored many of the debates historically, or perhaps a new purpose-built organization. Perhaps this publication, The Fulcrum, or their partner the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
Candidates – Each formally declared major party candidate should be allowed to participate. Trump, Biden, and DeSantis, of course. But also, Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Marianne Williamson for the Democrats, and the growing stable of other declared Republican candidates. And what of the minor political parties? How do we ensure that their ideas are readily available to voters? The Libertarian Party and the Green Party are the two largest minor parties with a membership of around 1,000,000 and 250,000 respectively, and just over 1 percent and .25 percent of the popular vote for president in 2020. We should encourage their candidates to participate in this effort. We might also establish criteria for letting other minor party candidates participate if they reach a certain level of membership or a certain number of signed petitions to the sponsoring organization.
Ultimately, we need to have the voters decide if a particular party is on the fringe, or worthy of consideration. The sponsoring organization should also have a policy of inclusiveness to include high-profile independent candidates (Joe Manchin, Tulsi Gabbard, Elon Musk?). Recent historical examples would include John B. Anderson who won nearly 7 percent of the popular vote in 1980, Ross Perot who won 19 percent in 1992, and Ralph Nader who ran four times, once as an independent, and won nearly 3 percent of the popular vote in 2000 as the nominee of the Green Party.
Venue – Each interrogation should be conducted in a spartan, generic, and essentially identical studio. No distracting props like family pictures or a bookshelf. Three interrogators on one side of the table. The candidate on the other side. One camera would be focused on the candidate, and another on the interrogators. A split-screen presentation can present the facial expressions and body language of both the candidate and the interrogators.
Topics – It is easy enough to identify a list of key topics to include and have the interrogators and candidates address them in depth. Let us suggest the following: taxation, government spending in general, specific social programs such as welfare, military and veterans, education, foreign policy and foreign aid. We might also expect the following topics to be consistently addressed unless they are somehow “solved” in the future: the environment, gun violence and gun control, abortion rights versus the right to life, race relations, the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, health care, and immigration issues.
The Interrogators – For each topic there should be three interrogators. They might be journalists, or they might be experts in the field. Ideally, the same three interrogators should participate on a given topic for all candidates. This would be the “fair” approach. But to the extent different interrogators created a sense of unfairness, well that is real life. One interrogator should lean left, while another should lean right. A third should be recognized as a centrist and ideally independent of the major parties. Television talking heads and internet extremists should be avoided. The journalists should have the reputation of being in-depth investigators. A brief bio should be prepared by each interrogator that includes not only their professional background but should candidly describe their political leanings.
The Interrogation – For each topic, the candidate should sit with the interrogators for approximately three hours. The questions should be in-depth with deep follow-up questions. There should be a give-and-take between the candidate and the interrogators, with both original questions and follow-up questions coming from all sides. The interrogators should seek information and not pontificate or ask soft questions. Each interrogation should focus on a specific topic and the interrogators should not go down the path of sidetracking into other issues including personal peccadilloes and legal issues (the candidates should have the ability to voluntarily subject themselves to an interrogation on such personal matters so that they can address the issues directly and in-depth).
The candidates’ responses should focus on their ideas, political philosophies, policies, and proposals, and should not attempt to compare and contrast themselves with or otherwise denigrate other candidates. If they go down that path, the interrogators should interrupt and redirect. The interrogation should be recorded from start to finish and made available on the internet in a complete and unedited manner, in video, audio, and written transcript formats.
Timing – Ideally the interrogations will take place shortly after a candidate declares and before the first primaries.
Would voters be more informed if each candidate submitted themselves to thirty hours of in-depth questioning on ten topics? Would the candidates themselves be better having gone through this gauntlet? Would we better understand each candidate’s political philosophy, policy preferences, governing style, and temperament, and which candidates are extreme, and which are not? Would a campaign “event” of this nature improve the civic education of the voters and the overall election process? An unqualified “Yes” seems the only answer.
But would the candidates agree to this? We submit that it might only take one. Unlike debates, which require both (or all) participants to agree to a constraining set of rules, each candidate could decide to participate on their own. And once one takes the plunge, others will soon follow. If Nikki Haley or Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. submits to this process and finds her or his support in the polls doubles, other candidates will surely want to participate. Some of the minor candidates might even band together and release the results simultaneously. This could prompt Biden or Trump to join in or risk looking scared of the process. And if most candidates participate during this cycle, it will quickly become a standard that any serious candidate will need to participate in to be considered worthy of voter consideration.
So which candidates are you considering? Send them a link to this proposal and ask them if they are interested in improving the presidential election process. Because we deserve better.